Australia fires: Rain brings relief but huge blazes expected

Media caption,
Australia's capital Canberra is engulfed in smoke

Rain has fallen in fire-ravaged parts of Australia and temperatures have dropped - but officials have warned that blazes will "take off" again.

Sooty rain fell down the east coast, from Sydney to Melbourne, with "torrential" rain reported in some parts of New South Wales (NSW).

Officials said temperatures would soar again by Friday.

They also said huge fires in Victoria and NSW could meet to create a larger "mega blaze".

"There is no room for complacency," NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned on Monday.

"This morning it is all about recovery, making sure people who have been displaced have somewhere safe."

Despite the respite, haze pollution remained dangerously high.

Victoria's Bureau of Meteorology warned that visibility in Melbourne was less than 1km (0.62 miles) in many parts of the city and its surroundings.

The Insurance Council of Australia said there had been almost 9,000 claims, amounting to A$700m (£369m), for fire-related damage and destruction since the blazes began in September.

Australia's Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told ABC it was "too early to tell" what the full economic impact of the fires would be.

Twenty-five people have died since September and more than 1,500 homes have been destroyed.

What is the latest?

The easing of conditions meant valuable supplies could be taken to affected areas on Monday.

The army said it had sent supplies, personnel, and vehicles to Kangaroo Island off near the city of Adelaide in South Australia. The island has been devastated by bushfires, with two people killed last week.

The army also sent out reconnaissance and assistance missions in NSW and Victoria.

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Hundreds of properties were destroyed at the weekend. Rural towns and major cities saw red skies, falling ash and smoke that clogged the air. But by Monday there were no emergency warnings, following the weather change.

NSW's Rural Fire Service said firefighters were using the "more favourable conditions" to work on strengthening containment lines.

"Use this time as well to prepare your property and discuss your bush fire survival plan with your family, ahead of forecast worsening conditions this Friday," it urged local residents.

Victoria Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp warned "it will warm up" and the fires "will take off again".

"This will be a changing, dynamic situation," he said, warning it was "inevitable" the fires would join across the border.

On Monday morning, there was only around 10km between a blaze in Victoria's Corryong and two burning at Kosciuszko National Park in NSW.

Media caption,
BBC Weather's Sarah Keith-Lucas

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said A$2bn ($1.4bn; £1.1bn) would be committed to recovery over the next two years.

A number of celebrities have also donated money to support firefighting efforts in recent days - among them US singer Pink, and Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman, who pledged $500,000 each.

And on Monday, pop star Kylie Minogue tweeted she had donated too:

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Turning from orange to grey

Simon Atkinson, BBC News in Eden, NSW

With its drizzle and grey horizon, the wharf at Eden could almost be an English coastal town.

It's hard to fathom that on Saturday night - as fire threatened and skies turned orange - this was where hundreds of people fled to perceived safety near the water.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
This is what Eden, NSW, looked like on Saturday
Image source, BBC Simon Atkinson
Image caption,
Rain falls on the HMAS Adelaide in Eden on Monday

Most have now left: some to their homes as the fire threat eased, others to evacuation centres in bigger towns after authorities warned the wharf wasn't a safe option.

The rain is a welcome surprise, and has given some respite from the smoke-filled air.

But with hot dry conditions predicted later in the week, Eden's people - like many in this corner of the country - are in limbo.

And the navy ship lurking off the coast - poised to help in rescue mission - is another reminder this is far from over.

What is the government doing?

Australia is fighting one of its worst bushfire seasons, fuelled by record temperatures and months of drought.

At the weekend, Mr Morrison warned the crisis might go on for months.

Media caption,
The BBC's Phil Mercer says Kangaroo Valley has "a horrible, ghostly feel"

He announced the creation of a recovery agency to help those who have lost homes and businesses in the fires.

Mr Morrison has faced fierce criticism for his response - including for taking a holiday to Hawaii during the crisis.

Former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop - and Mr Morrison's Liberal Party colleague - said the prime minister was "doing the best he can", but urged the government to act on climate change.

"We don't have a national energy policy in this country and a national approach to climate change," she said.

"If a country like Australia fails to show leadership, we can hardly blame other nations for not likewise showing leadership in this area."