New fire alert in south-east Australia as PM defends govt's leadership
Aussie PM defends his leadership and record on climate change, pledges 3,000 reservists to help battle fires
SYDNEY A dangerous fire flared up in south-eastern Australia yesterday even as cooler conditions elsewhere allowed the authorities to begin assessing the damage from heatwave-spurred blazes that swept through two states on Saturday.
Officials told residents and others in the New South Wales (NSW) state town of Eden to leave immediately and head north if they did not have a bush fire response plan.
Tens of thousands of homes in both NSW and Victoria states were without power yesterday as a large-scale military and police effort continued to provide supplies and evacuate thousands of people who have been trapped for days in coastal towns by the fires.
Initial estimates put damaged or destroyed properties in the hundreds, but the authorities said the mass evacuations by residents of at-risk areas appear to have prevented major loss of life.
Twenty-four people have been killed since the start of this year's wildfire season.
Yesterday's cooler temperatures and light rain forecast in some coastal areas in coming days could bring some relief, but officials said that would not be enough to bring the almost 200 fires still burning under control.
Thousands of people have been evacuated from coastal towns at the peak of the summer holiday season, in one of the biggest coordinated operations since the evacuation of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy flattened the northern city in 1974.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended his leadership and his government's record on climate change yesterday.
Mr Morrison was heckled last week when he visited a township in New South Wales in which houses had been destroyed and which was home to one of three volunteer firefighters who have died in the crisis so far.
On Saturday, Mr Morrison announced that, for the first time in Australian history, 3,000 army, navy and air force reservists will be thrown into the battle against the fires. He also committed US$14 million (S$18.9 million) to leasing fire-fighting aircraft from overseas.
But those decisions attracted complaints that he had taken too long to act, as fires have burned through millions of hectares in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
Mr Morrison told a news conference yesterday it was not the time for blame.
"There has been a lot of blame thrown around," Mr Morrison said. "And now is the time to focus on the response that is being made... blame doesn't help anybody at this time and over-analysis of these things is not a productive exercise."
Mr Morrison has been chided for past remarks that appear to minimise the link between climate change and Australia's escalating threats of drought and wildfires.
"There is no dispute in this country about the issue of climate change globally and its effect on global weather patterns and that includes how it impacts in Australia," he said.
"I have to correct the record here. I have seen a number of people suggest that somehow the government does not make this connection. The government has always made this connection and that has never been in dispute." - REUTERS, AP