Australia Uses Bushfires Breather to Plan for Next Onslaught

MELBOURNE/SYDNEY (Reuters) -
The burnt-out remains of a house from a bushfire in the Southern Highlands town of Wingello, Australia, Monday. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas/via Reuters)

Australian officials used a respite on Monday from fierce wildfires that have killed 25 people across the country’s southeast to race to reopen blocked roads and evacuate people who have been trapped for days.

A second day of light rain and cool winds brought some relief from heatwave-fueled blazes that ripped through two states over the weekend, but officials warned the hazardous weather conditions were expected to return later in the week.

Police on Monday confirmed the death of a 71-year-old man on the south coast of New South Wales (NSW) state who was reported missing on Dec. 31, bringing the national toll to 25.

More than 20 million acres of land have so far been destroyed in the current fire season, nearly the size of Austria.

“No one can be complacent. We’ve got big fire danger coming our way towards the end of this week with hot weather,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Monday afternoon.

Authorities redoubled their efforts to provide supplies and repatriate thousands of people who have been trapped by fire lines in coastal towns for several days.

“What we are focusing on here is the human cost and the rebuilding cost for people’s lives,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra as he announced funding of A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) over two years to the newly formed National Bushfire Recovery Agency.

Morrison said nearly 4,000 cattle and sheep have been killed as a result of the fires.

The bushfire season started earlier than normal this year following a three-year drought that has left much of the country’s bushland tinder-dry and vulnerable to fires.