A melted hose lays in a garden in Cobargo. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Reuters
A melted hose lays in a garden in Cobargo. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Reuters

Fatal crash brings death toll from Australian bushfires to 26

By Subel Bhandari Time of article published Jan 8, 2020

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Canberra - The number of people killed in Australia's

devastating bushfire season, which started in September, has

increased to 26 after a forest fire management worker's death was

confirmed on Wednesday.

The father-of-two lost his life in a vehicle crash while fighting

bushfires in the state of Victoria on January 3. 

The state's emergency services minister Lisa Neville told reporters

on Wednesday that following a police investigation it was confirmed

that the death was related to the bushfires.

Fire crews in south-eastern Australia were taking advantage of cooler

weather on Wednesday, getting on top of blazes and conducting

controlled back-burning before more extreme weather conditions later

in the week.

More than 120 fires continue to burn across New South Wales, with 50

uncontained. While in Victoria more than 40 bushfires are burning,

with about a dozen beginning to merge.

Both states have seen some rain, including in the bushfire affected

areas, on Tuesday and Wednesday. But the authorities also asked

people in several towns in fire danger areas to evacuate early as

extreme fire conditions were forecast for Friday. 

The milder conditions have been used to good effect by fire crews,

New South Wales Emergency Services Minister David Elliott told

reporters on Wednesday, while noting more extreme weahter days are

ahead.

Conditions are expected to worsen on Friday, with temperatures

forecast to soar above 40 degrees Celsius across parts of the eastern

states, with strong winds threatening to fan bushfire activity.

The Gospers Mountain "megafire," which has already burned more than

half a million hectares in Sydney's north-west, could be contained by

Friday, Elliot said, adding "I think we have reached the peak." 

New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) said on Tuesday that almost

1,700 homes have been completely destroyed and 700 others

damaged since September as the on-the-ground assessment continues. 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited South Australia's

Kangaroo Island on Wednesday, where more than 160,000 hectares have

burned so far.

The conditions on the island and across the country was "shocking and

terrifying," Morrison told reporters.

Local wildlife officials said up to 25,000 koalas, or half of the

population on the island, may have died. 

Weather conditions are forecast to worsen on Kangaroo Island on

Thursday.

Meanwhile, the smoke haze has returned to Sydney after a few days of

reprieve, making the air quality in the city's east "hazardous" and

in the west "very poor," according to the New South Wales health

department.

More than one million P2 particulate-filter masks are being delivered

to bushfire zones in the state, state health minister Brad Hazzard

said. 

The air quality in Melbourne and Canberra also continues to be

"hazardous" due to smokes from bushfires. 

The Bureau of Meteorology has said smoke haze from the Victorian

fires will likely reach Tasmania late Thursday.

A "mega-fire" is also in the process of forming in southern New South

Wales and northern Victoria along the Great Dividing Range, as

several bushfires continue to burn, closing the gaps between them,

fire authorities in both the states said.

Victorian authorities also asked organizers of a climate protest

planned for Friday in Melbourne to postpone the rally due to police

being stretched across fire-ravaged rural areas.

"I am just stunned and I would ask them to reconsider - there is a

time for protests, and it is not this Friday," Neville told

reporters. 

Meanwhile, several firefighter organizations and unions have called

for a federal royal commission into Australia's bushfires to look

into resourcing, coordination, inter-state communication, training

and fatigue as critical issues. 

Royal commissions are convened in Australia on issues of special

public importance and have extensive investigative

powers. Morrison said Wednesday he would consider one.

Elsewhere, residents across numerous rural communities in northern

Australia have been warned to prepare for damaging winds, rain and

floods ahead of the season's first tropical cyclone on Friday.

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