In this image released and dated on Jan. 6, 2020, from Australian Department of Defence, plant operators Cpl. Duncan Keith and Sapper Ian Larner of the 22nd Engineer Regiment use a 434 backhoe to assist staff from Forestry Management Victoria to clear fire damaged trees from the great Alpine road between Bairnsdale and Omeo during Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20 in Bairnsdale, Victoria, Australia. Australia’s government on Monday said it was willing to pay “whatever it takes” to help communities recover from deadly wildfires that have ravaged the country. (Department of Defence via AP)

In this image released and dated on Jan. 6, 2020, from Australian Department of Defence, plant operators Cpl. Duncan Keith and Sapper Ian Larner of the 22nd Engineer Regiment use a 434 backhoe to assist staff from Forestry Management Victoria to clear fire damaged trees from the great Alpine road between Bairnsdale and Omeo during Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20 in Bairnsdale, Victoria, Australia. Australia’s government on Monday said it was willing to pay “whatever it takes” to help communities recover from deadly wildfires that have ravaged the country. (Department of Defence via AP)

Australia to pay ‘whatever it takes’ to fight wildfires

Scientists say there’s no doubt man-made global warming has played a major role in the fires

Australia’s government said Monday it was willing to pay “whatever it takes” to help communities recover from deadly wildfires that have ravaged the country.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was committing an extra 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.4 billion) toward the recovery effort in addition to the tens of millions of dollars that have already been promised.

“The fires are still burning. And they’ll be burning for months to come,” Morrison said. “And so that’s why I outlined today that this is an initial, an additional, investment of $2 billion. If more is needed and the cost is higher, then more will be provided.”

Morrison’s announcement of the funds, which will go toward rebuilding towns and infrastructure destroyed by the fires, came as the death toll from the disaster rose with the discovery of a body in a remote part of New South Wales. The body is believed to be that of a 71-year-old man who was last seen on New Year’s Eve moving equipment on his property on the state’s south coast, police said in a statement. Police found the body on Monday between the property and a car, both of which had been destroyed by fire.

Another person in southern New South Wales was reported missing, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

Nationwide, at least 25 people have been killed and 2,000 homes destroyed by the blazes, which have so far scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland.

Rain and cooler temperatures on Monday were bringing some relief to communities battling the fires. But the rain was also making it challenging for fire crews to complete strategic burns as they tried to prepare for higher temperatures that have been forecast for later in the week.

READ MORE: Canadian basketball star Kia Nurse donating to Australia wildfire relief efforts

“With the more benign weather conditions, it presents some wonderful relief for everybody, the firefighters, the emergency services personnel, but also the communities affected by these fires,” Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, told reporters. “But it also presents some real challenges when it comes to implementing tactical and strategic back-burns and other techniques to try and bring these fires under control.”

More than 135 fires were still burning across New South Wales, including almost 70 that were not contained. Officials have warned that the rain won’t put out the largest and most dangerous blazes before conditions deteriorate again.

Victoria state Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said at least 200 millimeters (8 inches) of rain would need to fall over a short period of time in order to snuff out the fires — around 20 times what has fallen across the region in the past day. And officials warned that Australia’s wildfire season — which generally lasts through March — was nowhere near its end.

“No one can be complacent. We’ve got big fire danger coming our way toward the end of this week,” Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne. “We are by no means out of this. And the next few days, and indeed the next few months, are going to be challenging.”

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian also urged Australians not to let their guards down.

Australia’s capital, Canberra, had the worst air quality of any major city in the world for much of Monday. The Department of Home Affairs, which is responsible for co-ordinating the country’s response to disasters, told all noncritical staff to stay home because of thick smoke choking the city.

The prime minister said the military was attempting to get food, fuel and water to burned-out communities, and engineers were working to reopen roads and resupply evacuation centres. On Kangaroo Island, a refuge off the coast of South Australia state for some of the country’s most endangered creatures, teams had arrived to help euthanize livestock and wild animals injured in the blazes. Hundreds of millions of animals are believed to have died already in the fires across the country.

Heavy smoke, meanwhile, was hampering the navy’s efforts to airlift people out of Mallacoota, a coastal town in Victoria cut off for days by fires that forced as many as 4,000 residents and tourists to shelter on beaches over the weekend. Around 300 people were still waiting to be evacuated on Monday.

The prime minister’s announcement of relief funds comes as he finds himself under siege for what many Australians have viewed as his lax response to the crisis. On Saturday, he announced he would dispatch 3,000 army, navy and air force reservists to help battle the fires and committed 20 million Australian dollars ($14 million) to lease firefighting aircraft from overseas.

But the moves did little to tamp down the criticism that Morrison had been slow to act, even as he has downplayed the need for his government to address climate change, which experts say helps supercharge the blazes.

Wildfires are common during the southern hemisphere summer, and Australians generally take a pragmatic view of them. But this year’s fires arrived unusually early, fed by drought and the country’s hottest and driest year on record.

READ MORE: ‘Millions of sparks’: Weather raises Australia’s fire danger

Scientists say there’s no doubt man-made global warming has played a major role in feeding the fires, along with factors like very dry brush and trees and strong winds.

The environmental group Greenpeace said the relief funds announced by Morrison were “a drop in the ocean,” given the widespread devastation from the fires.

“Every single cent of that money should be contributed by the coal, gas and oil companies whose carbon pollution has caused the climate crisis that has created these extreme fire conditions, right across the country,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific Head of Campaigns Jamie Hanson said in a statement. “Slugging everyday taxpayers with the bill for this just adds insult to injury. These big polluters have become rich by trashing our climate and it’s time that they started coughing up for the repair bill.”

Nick Perry And Kristen Gelineau, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Owner Daren McWhinney is really excited about the new location of Angry Vegan which just opened up at 536 Main Street. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton’s Main Street turns into foodie heaven

Angry Vegan, Wild Ginger, Twisted Chopsticks and Gratify recently opened

Four golfers from Fairview Mountain Golf Club in Oliver will golf from sunrise to sunset to raise funds for ALS on June 29. (Submitted)
Golfing from sunrise to sunset in Oliver for ALS

Four golfers from Fairview Mountain Golf Club have taken up the challenge June 29

The Journey, an art exhibit by Pauline Hurley, was on display at the Summerland Ats Centre earlier this spring. Beginning June 15, the Summerland Community Arts Council will present Spark, a 10-week community arts challenge. (Summerland Review file photo)
Challenge to spark creativity among Summerland artists

Spark challenge will begin June 15 and will run 10 weeks

A storm watch has been issued for the Okanagan, Kootenays and Columbia regions of B.C. (Calvin Dickson photo)
Another severe thunderstorm watch issued for the Okanagan

Conditions are favourable for thunderstorms that may produce strong wind gusts, hail and heavy rain

The South Okanagan Tim Hortons raised over $4,000 through the three day orange doughnut promotion with 100 per cent of proceeds going to to the Residential School Survivors Society. The owner of these locations matched the amount. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
South Okanagan Tim Hortons raises over $8K for residential school survivors

More than $4,000 worth of doughnuts were purchased over three days

Singer-songwriter Jann Arden is pictured with a draft horse. (Canadian Horse Defence Coalition)
Jann Arden backs petition to stop live horse export

June 14 is the International Day to End Live Export of Animals

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

(Dave Ogilvie photo)
One injured after being pinned by fallen forklift near Peachland

West Kelowna emergency crews responded to reports of a person stuck under a forklift

Penticton Overdose Prevention Society co-founders Desiree Franz, Shane Surowski and Stephanie Lines have created the city’s first unsanctioned public overdose prevention site using an old wine-tour bus. The site began operations in June 2021. (Desiree Franz/Facebook)
Volunteers launch Penticton’s first public supervised injection site

2021 is on pace to be the deadliest year for overdoses in Penticton on record

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

B.C. ambulance station in Revelstoke is expected to get a new system called the Scheduled On-Call (SOC) this fall. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
B.C. ambulance changes could put Revelstoke residents at risk, warn local paramedics

Paramedics said to expect a substantial increase in ambulance response time starting this fall

This goose family went for a leisurely stroll down Vernon’s Main Street Saturday, April 25. (Dave Deshane photo)
Controversial Vernon goose cull won’t fly this year

Necessary permit procedures held up at a federal level

Mounties cover a burgundy truck with a tent at Buckerfields in West Kelowna on Monday, June 14. The RCMP is investigating after a woman’s body was found inside the truck. (Amandalina Letterio/Capital News)
West Kelowna RCMP investigating suspicious death after body found in truck

Police responded to a truck parked out front of a Main Street business where the body was found

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Most Read