Nation counts cost of Australian blazes after communities devastated – as it happened

Last modified: 07: 23 AM GMT+0

Cudlee Creek fire revealed to have destroyed 86 homes while 100 more estimated lost in New South Wales as residents wait to discover extent of devastation from weekend’s blazes. This blog is now closed

We are going to leave the blog here for the night.

As it stands we have two watch and act fires in NSW: the Grose Valley fire and the Forest Road fire in Comberton.

In South Australia there are two watch and act fires: the Cudlee Creek fire and the Duncan fire.

In WA there is one emergency warning fire in the goldfields region, in parts of Cundeelee.

In Victoria, two watch and act emergency warnings remain in place for Tamboo Crossing and Brookville.

Firefighters are using the milder conditions to help build stronger control lines but, as we have been saying for the past two days, without meaningful rain the fires will continue.

Stay safe, everyone.

Updated

An emergency warning has been issued in WA’s goldfields region.

02:51 PM -Bushfire EMERGENCY WARNING for parts of CUNDEELEE in CITY OF KALGOORLIE-BOULDER: https://t.co/ZSEIQCTb4B

— DFES (@dfes_wa) December 23, 2019

Here’s the situation in Victoria, via AAP. It’s all about preparing for what is to come, with milder weather over Christmas allowing firefighters time to strengthen containment lines:

East Gippsland bushfires burning since 21 November have already burnt through 50,000 hectares.

“We suspect these fires will burn for some weeks, if not months,” CFA chief officer Steve Warrington said.

“We have a few days of respite where we’ll be putting in stronger control lines.

“We will try to build this control line so that fire doesn’t run out of there and we can fight it within these lines, but the reality is that these fires are active and very dangerous.”

Two watch and act emergency warnings remain in place for Tamboo Crossing and Brookville, with heavy smoke present throughout the Tambo Valley.

Air quality around the area is expected to be very poor to hazardous over the next 24 hours. An air quality warning was issued on Monday in Melbourne and other parts of the state.

Updated

Comberton has been downgraded from emergency warning to watch and act. There are now no emergency warning-level fires in NSW. Just two watch and act: the Comberton fire and the Grose Valley fire.

Watch and Act - Forest Road, Comberton

Conditions are easing, however there is still active fire in the area.
If you are in the area of Princes Highway between Btu Road, Parma Rd & Braidwood Rd, monitor conditions. Know what you will do if threatened by fire. #NSWRFS #NSWFires pic.twitter.com/6jAKA4m57t

— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 23, 2019

Updated

We have updated the map again so you can see the sheer size of the amount of land in Australia ravaged by bushfires. We are now up to 3.6m hectares burned in NSW and Queensland since the start of the 2019 fire season.

#Bushfire Watch and Act for #HOLLANDS_CREEK_ROAD,_CUDLEE_CREEK #fire. Take action now as this bushfire may threaten your safety. If you are not prepared, leave now and if the path is clear, go to a safer place. #WAM ID=0003869 #SAFires https://t.co/nC28lsu6hM pic.twitter.com/Ixq1rQacDV

— Country Fire Service (@CFSAlerts) December 23, 2019

I spoke to Dale Adams, a lieutenant at the Eden Hills Country Fire Service, who took this photo of a koala meeting a firefighter as a fire rages in the background.

He said the photo was taken at Lobethal on Friday while protecting homes. Two koalas wandered out of the bush seeking assistance.

“Up behind us there were a couple of houses under threat so we were working to protect them from ember attack and the firefront and they stepped out of the bush seeking help,” he said.

Adams said it was common for koalas to seek help from firefighters in these situations. The koalas were given water and moved to a safer location. Firefighters lost track of them and they were eventually forced to pull out of the property.

Updated

LARGE ANIMALS can be taken to:
▪️Milton Showground, 107 Croobyar Road, Milton
▪️Nowra Showground, access via Worrigee Street Nowra

For the latest information on Evacuation Centres please visit; https://t.co/y80D3tM8s1#ShoalhavenCity https://t.co/YalqVc9A4j

— Shoalhaven City Coun (@ShoalhavenCC) December 23, 2019

Good evening everyone, Amy Corderoy handing over to Josh Taylor now.

A “watch and act” warning remained in place for the Adelaide Hills fire, with the CFS worried about increasing temperatures in the coming days.

By the weekend, the mercury will again be nudging 40C, raising fire-risk fears.

Fires are also still burning on Kangaroo Island, where one home has been confirmed lost.

Assessment teams were still checking on other properties.

So far about 40,000ha have been burnt across the state, including 25,000ha in the Adelaide Hills.

One person, 69-year-old Ron Selth, died in that fire as he tried to defend his property at Charleston.

Three more remain in hospital with burns, including noted horse trainer John Glatz, who is in a critical but stable condition.

Updated

Country Fire Service crews have worked to contain flare-ups across the Adelaide Hills as the losses from the devastating bushfire mount and deteriorating weather conditions loom.

Small areas still burning within the fire’s 127km perimeter roared back into life on Monday but were dealt with quickly, the CFS still having about 200 firefighters on the ground, AAP reports.

The incidents came as the losses from the blaze continued to rise, with 86 homes now confirmed destroyed, along with almost 500 other buildings.

The number of vehicles lost had jumped to 278.

Agricultural losses are also growing, with about 1100ha of vineyards thought destroyed or damaged, equal to about a third of the area’s grape production, while cherry farmers were hard hit.

Premier Steven Marshall visited the fireground on Monday and said there was still much work to be done to fully contain the fire and to help the victims and wider communities.

Updated

NSW Fires: Families evacuated from the village of Balmoral have been taken back there by bus this afternoon, to see whether their homes survived. https://t.co/opbIV5jfVk @amberlaidler7 #NSWFires #Balmoral #7NEWS pic.twitter.com/CNIRxikLwt

— 7NEWS Sydney (@7NewsSydney) December 23, 2019

Western Australia’s firefighting aerial fleet has dropped 8.9m litres of water so far this bushfire season, which is more than half the water used for the entirety of 2018-19.

The recent Yanchep bushfire alone accounted for about 4.7m litres of water, emergency services minister Francis Logan said.

It is also the driest start to the southern season in more than 40 years, AAP reports.

The Georgia Peach aircrane, which has been fighting fires in Greece, arrived in Perth on Monday.

WA’s aerial fleet now consists of 33 rotary and fixed-wing suppression and aerial intelligence aircraft.

Updated

The federal government has announced it will underwrite two new gas-fired power stations, with Scott Morrison saying it may still greenlight coal-fired generation for Queensland and New South Wales.

Even as Australia suffers through a record-breaking heatwave Morrison said the government would continue to explore all power options and would not be deterred by “lots of shouting noises” and instead would listen to “those quiet still voices”.

EMERGENCY WARNING - Forest Road, Comberton (Shoalhaven LGA)

Due to fire impact the Princes Highway is closed between South Nowra and Lake Conjola. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/7vchnqdFyq

— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 23, 2019

Blackheath: Out of control fires burning at Govetts Leap. This fire spread from the Gospers Mountain fire and crossed the Grose River south of the Bells Line of Road. https://t.co/uIzPp8K0KH #NSWfires #7NEWS pic.twitter.com/jm5mV5OaTy

— 7NEWS Sydney (@7NewsSydney) December 23, 2019

While the number of active fires has declined, this map from My Fire Watch shows how many fires are still active across mainland Australia.

The picture shows fire hotspots that are within 0-12 hours old in red, and those that are 12-24 hours old in orange.

My Fire Watch is a project run by a collaboration between Landgate and Edith Cowan University.

Screen shot of current fires in mainland Australia, from myfirewatch.landgate.wa.gov.au. 23 December, 2019
Screen shot of current fires in mainland Australia, from myfirewatch.landgate.wa.gov.au. 23 December, 2019 Photograph: My Fire Watch

Updated

Scott Morrison’s visit to bushfire ravaged NSW has divided locals who battled a “fireball” while the prime minister was on holiday in Hawaii.

Morrison today took an aerial tour of the bushland where the Gospers Mountain megafire destroyed dozens of buildings over the weekend, before arriving in Mudgee to meet evacuated residents and NSW Rural Fire Service members.

Morrison spoke with locals staying at the Mudgee Evacuation Centre who were nervously waiting to hear if their homes - saved once already on the weekend - were again about to be in the path of the megafire after it changed direction.

Ilford family John and Nova Cunningham and their three children arrived at the Mudgee Evacuation Centre at 11pm on Saturday.

“There was a fireball that came through, it was this huge roar and that’s when it just hit everybody and we had to leave,” Nova Cunningham told the pool reporters on tour with the PM.

John Cunningham said he thought it was “good” Morrison had visited but felt he shouldn’t have gone on holiday last week.

“I believe everyone is entitled to a holiday, but I think as the voice of the people he probably should have stayed”.

Running Stream farmers Diana, 73, and Keith, 76, Rutter said Morrison shouldn’t have had to cut his holiday short.

“He shouldn’t have come back from holiday early, because he’s going to be needed so much more in the new year,” Diana Rutter said.

Updated

The bushfire zone covers about 30% of the 1100ha of vineyards that make up the premier Adelaide Hills wine region, the Advertiser reports.

About 30 per cent of the vineyards that make up the premier #AdelaideHills wine region were in the fire area. 
Some wineries lost everything, including their homes.#SAFires #AustralianFires
📷 Bottles at Tilbrook Estate Winery smashed in the intense heat of the blaze. (From FB) pic.twitter.com/AdRiwHChnv

— Fiona Bateman (@feebateman) December 23, 2019

Updated

What a sad but iconically Australian moment this photograph, from the Eden Hills Country Fire Service’s Facebook page, captures.

A firefighter and a koala at the firefront in South Australia
A firefighter and a koala at the firefront in South Australia. Photograph: Eden Hills Country Fire Service/Facebook

Updated

Air pollution in suburban Adelaide up to seven times hazardous limit

Air quality across Adelaide has fallen to hazardous levels because of smoke from the bushfires in the Adelaide Hills, the Environment Protection Authority says.

It says pollution levels in the city are two to seven times normal levels.

Adelaide’s central business district peaked at 200 micrograms of PM 10 particles (particles up to 10 micrograms across) early on Monday.

The normal level is 50 micrograms.

In suburban Kensington, levels rose to 350 micrograms.

EPA boss Keith Baldry said the smoke haze was the result of evening gully winds pushing smoke from the fire ground, combined with calm conditions and an inversion layer that trapped the smoke overnight.

Air quality in the Adelaide metropolitan area is likely to improve on Monday afternoon, before the haze returns overnight, AAP reports.

SA Health said the smoke could pose a health risk, particularly for people with lung or heart conditions.

“Hot weather and poor air quality are a dangerous combination and we are urging people to stay indoors, stay hydrated and reduce their exposure to smoky air,” acting chief public health officer Chris Lease said.

“Smoke particles can aggravate existing health problems such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and heart conditions.”

Updated

Some good news at last for the bushfire victims: ANZ has extended its bushfire relief package to take in customers across the country.

The package, which allows customers hit by the fires to suspend loan repayments and avoid fees, was previously available to those in NSW and southern Queensland.

ANZ’s general managing director of retail banking, Kath Bray, said the bank had also given extra paid leave to employees who were volunteering fighting fires or performing other emergency services.

Under the relief package, customers can suspend repayments on loans, including credit cards, for up to three months.

The bank says it will also give interest rate cuts to customers who are “experiencing extreme financial distress in areas impacted by the fires”.

It will also waive fees to restructure business loans for customers hit by the fires and allow depositors to crack term deposits open early without penalty.

CBA, NAB and Westpac also have disaster relief packages for customers in NSW and Queensland bushfire areas.

Updated

Cricket Australia is preparing for smoke from bushfires to impact play during Sydney’s New Year’s Test match between Australia and New Zealand.

On Saturday, a Big Bash League fixture in Canberra was abandoned because of poor air quality. Reduced visibility on the field, caused by smoke from the bushfires currently ravaging parts of NSW, is the primary issue that could put players and umpires at risk of injury at the 3-7 January fixture. Spectators could also face health risks.

Young Australians on social media are mocking Scott Morrison and expressing their anger over his six-day holiday to Hawaii during Australia’s bushfire crisis.

The online parodies of Scott Morrison, including a video with Kourtney Kardashian saying “Working is not my top priority”, are going viral, Naaman Zhou reports.

Updated

Four of Australia's five hottest days on record were last week

Heatwave update: the extraordinary nationwide burst that gave Australia its hottest three days on record between Tuesday and Thursday continued into Friday before dipping slightly on the weekend, the Bureau of Meteorology says.

The average maximum temperature across the country on Friday was 40.3C. Before last week, that would have made it the equal hottest day recorded, alongside 7 January 2013.

But that mark had been broken on Tuesday (initially reported as 40.9C after a preliminary assessment by the bureau, now confirmed as 41.0C), then smashed on Wednesday (41.9C). Thursday fell back to 41C.

It means the country endured four of its five hottest days in a row.

The average maximum fell to 39.1C on Saturday before climbing back to 39.6C on Sunday.

Updated

Federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese says the federal government should be playing a bigger role coordinating the fire response.

Albanese questioned PM Scott Morrison’s leadership, saying a Coag meeting – to discuss the development of a new national strategy for disaster preparedness and the appropriate funding by governments for emergency services – must be brought forward.

The prime minister “can do three things immediately, which is to bring forward the Coag meeting, meet the former fire chiefs and do something now to provide support for those volunteer firefighters who have been in the field for such a long time,” AAP reports Albanese said.

“This is a national issue that requires some form of national coordination and national leadership.”

But Morrison rejected this, saying he did not accept the proposition that Coag had to meet for things to get done, because options and proposals for improving fire management were already being worked on.

“Our fire services are responding to this fire better than last time, and the next time it will be better still with the resources and the technology and the other things that we can put in place,” he said.

“So there’s no need for knee-jerk responses.”

Updated

For many people with friends and family in the bushfire zones, the feeling of helplessness is overwhelming.

Gavin Fenwick, son of Colin Todd, a Balmoral local who was featured in our story on Friday about the town, said he drew this cartoon to help cope with these feelings.

Colin and his partner, Sandy Lockwood, who is a prominent Australian potter, are still waiting to establish if their Balmoral home and studio has survived the fires.

Cartoon by Gavin Fenwick
Cartoon by Gavin Fenwick, son of Balmoral local Colin Todd. Photograph: Gavin Todd

Updated

There are fears the rare and ancient Wollemi pine has been caught up in the fires that are sweeping the Blue Mountains.

The Wollemi pines are more than 200m years old and were thought completely extinct until they were discovered by bushwalkers in 1994 in a small grove in the Blue Mountains.

The discovery makes the pines some of NSW’s most precious flora. They are listed as critically endangered by the UN and their whereabouts have been kept secret from the public to keep them safe.

But as the Gospers Mountain megafire burns through the area, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph has reported that three of four of their locations may be in danger.

The NSW Department of Environment is remaining tightlipped but said it was “doing everything we can to protect them”.

“Fire activity across the Blue Mountains and Wollemi National Park is ongoing,” a spokeswoman said. “We are doing everything we can to protect them. Their ongoing survival depends on their location remaining protected.

“The Wollemi pines have survived for over 200 million years and are not found anywhere else in the world. They are an important part of our heritage.”

A Wollemi pine
The Wollemi pine is a genus of coniferous tree in the family Araucariaceae. Photograph: TheYok/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Updated

SA Premier and Governor tour the fireground in Woodside in Adelaide Hills #safires @abcadelaide @CFSAlerts pic.twitter.com/VRfRvWLdny

— Richard Davies (@DaviesRich) December 23, 2019

Many more homes could have been lost in the NSW town of Balmoral on Saturday when the RFS firefighting crew ran out of water.

Guardian Australia’s Helen Davidson reports flames began reaching 200m above the treetops and the town, which is on tank water, simply did not have enough to meet demand.

As village Rural Fire Service brigade captain Brendon O’Connor tells it:

We were desperately trying to get more water into us, desperately calling for more to come in. A member from another brigade spoke to his boss about getting another truck into us really quick. That company saved a lot of homes.

The RFS Balmoral brigade captain, Brendon O’Connor, by the fire station
The Rural Fire Service brigade captain of the NSW southern highlands village of Balmoral, Brendon O’Connor, said during Saturday’s bushfire: ‘Everywhere you looked was burning.’ Photograph: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

Updated

Prime Minister @ScottMorrisonMP has visited the @NSWRFS headquarters in Mudgee. Firefighters fear as many as 100 buildings have been destroyed in the bushfires that tore through NSW under catastrophic conditions on Saturday. https://t.co/opbIV5jfVk #NSWFires #7NEWS pic.twitter.com/vajkGCl82A

— 7NEWS Sydney (@7NewsSydney) December 23, 2019

Total area burned in NSW reaches 3.41m hectares in 'unprecedented' season

The NSW Rural Fire Service says the scale of the bushfires is “unprecedented” for this point in the season.

The total area burned in NSW has reached 3.41m hectares, according to the RFS.

“To put it in perspective, in the past few years we have had a total area burned for the whole season of about 280,000ha,” RFS spokeswoman Angela Burford said. “This year we’re at 3.41m and we are only halfway through the season.”

The total number of houses destroyed currently sits at 829, but damage assessments of areas affected by the catastrophic conditions on Saturday are still underway. Burford said that number could increase by “up to 100”.

Updated

Morrison also responded to this tweet from Greta Thunberg:

Not even catastrophes like these seem to bring any political action. How is this possible?
Because we still fail to make the connection between the climate crisis and increased extreme weather events and nature disasters like the #AustraliaFires
That's what has to change.
Now. https://t.co/DQcZViKJQz

— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) December 22, 2019

He said Australia would set policies based on Australia’s national interests.

He also strongly rejected rumours that had been floating around on Twitter that he went to New York around the time of the Hawaii holiday for the opening of the Hillsong church in New York City with Brian Houston.

“That’s rubbish ... If you’re going to ask me a question about something as specific as that, you might actually tell me the source of what it is based on. So someone, somewhere, has started some rumour about apparently me being in New York and we’re going to ask that in the middle of the bushfires? I mean, seriously!”

Updated

Morrison has been asked whether communities can wait until the Coag meeting in March for decisions on policies around the fires.

Morrison says he doesn’t accept the premise of the question, and argues decisions are being made now, for financial support and for help from defence.

He says decisions around coordination will be made at Coag. That includes on whether volunteers should be given the resources they need. But he isn’t keen to talk about paying the volunteers because he says it’s a bit like meals on wheels.

“We need to understand that if it is fighting fires or patrolling our beach or supporting Meals on Wheels or any volunteer SES arrangement which supports during floods or storms, Australia’s system all around the country has always, and will always, depend on having a large volunteer force to deal with these issues.”

Updated

Morrison is claiming he and his deputy Michael McCormack are on the same page when it comes to climate change policy. McCormack said the other day that more needed to be done, but Morrison has ruled out changes to climate change policy.

Morrison is arguing more is being done as part of the government’s policy position. I guess it just depends on how you decide what the starting point for ‘more’ is?

Prime minister Scott Morrison is speaking at a media conference in Mudgee in New South Wales.

He said he flew across the Bells Line out through Wollemi and saw the absolute incineration of land and homes.

Morrison isn’t saying anything particularly new at this stage, just a lot of platitudes. It’s his third visit of the day to one of these places.

Protesters cheer for firefighters as the rally outside as NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian meets with Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers at the Blue Mountains Fire Control Centre in Katoomba, Monday, December 23, 2019.
Protesters cheer for firefighters as the rally outside as NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian meets with Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers at the Blue Mountains Fire Control Centre in Katoomba, Monday, December 23, 2019. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

So much of the town of Balmoral was destroyed over the weekend. This tree still stands - and the Christmas lights still work. @AJEnglish @AJENews #NSWfires pic.twitter.com/ilb6FthHjN

— Jessica Washington (@JesWashington) December 23, 2019

Melissa O’Dwyer, wife of Andrew O’Dwyer, and Jess Hayes, the fiancée of Geoff Keaton, had children born just four days apart.

The Daily Telegraph has reported today how the women want their children to remember them as heroes.

O’Dwyer says she is taking comfort from her husband’s fellow volunteers.

Our kids have got all these aunties and uncles now [from the fire service] and that gives me a lot of comfort. They can hear stories about their dads and how mighty they have been.”

EXCLUSIVE | The widows of two firefighters killed while protecting NSW homes have tearfully hugged while vowing to tell their young children stories about their hero dads and how “mighty they have been.” https://t.co/6Xb4qSqAb2

— The Daily Telegraph (@dailytelegraph) December 22, 2019

Updated

The Wingecarribee Shire Council has organised to take residents of fire-ravaged Balmoral and Buxton back to inspect their homes this afternoon.

The council announced on Facebook that it will provide buses for people from directly affected residences, leaving from two local RSLs around 3pm today. Staff from local police, emergency services and support agencies will also be on board the buses.

Public access to these villages remains restricted.

Updated

It’s astounding the perspective you can get from taking to the skies. pic.twitter.com/DfxbfaU7qI

— Qld Fire & Emergency (@QldFES) December 23, 2019

Watch and Act - Forest Road, Comberton (Shoalhaven LGA)

Fire activity is increasing on this fireground. Crews are working to slow the progress of the fire. https://t.co/6NoJkXoNl7 #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/ToJx7jgPQk

— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 23, 2019

RFS: ecological effect of NSW fires will be felt for years to come

RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers estimates more than 3m hectares of land has now been destroyed in the NSW bushfires.

You will see bigger fire seasons in the 1970s, but that was when there was a lot of grassland out in the west of the state growing. It was mostly grassland, and at the moment, given the drought, there is no grass out there to burn. This being three million hectares of forested areas, we shouldn’t underestimate how much of the natural environment has been burnt, and that has got serious ecological impacts, as well as the fire impact as well. That will be felt for years to come.

Updated

Another 100 homes in NSW lost over the weekend

NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers says it appears about 100 homes were lost to the weekend’s ferocious bushfires.

I think it will be another 24 hours before we get an accurate number but it is fair to say it is around 100.

Updated

Important update for those affected by the #SAfires: The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment has also been extended to eligible people in Adelaide Hills, City of Playford & Lower Eyre Peninsula. Call 180 22 66 to make a claim. More info: https://t.co/juvSAE9ua6 pic.twitter.com/YDEbLFjztK

— Human Services (@HumanServicesAU) December 23, 2019

Backburning has been conducted around Warragamba, which remains under threat from the Green Wattle Creek fire. Kazan Brown, a Gundungurra traditional owner who spoke to Guardian Australia last week, said the fire was predicted to hit them on Saturday night but the wind didn’t reach them.

Kazan Brown, the Warragamba resident I spoke to on Thursday and Friday, took these photos from Silverdale Hill behind the town on Saturday night.

Warragamba was saved by the wind change, but they have been told that this coming Saturday will be just as bad. pic.twitter.com/LMUIQXQV0D

— Calla Wahlquist (@callapilla) December 23, 2019

She took these photos from Silverdale Hill, which is behind the town at Warragamba. The fire is still a fair distance from them, Brown says, but they have been warned by the local RFS brigade that this coming Saturday will also be very bad.

Updated

#Bushfire Watch and Act for #HOLLANDS_CREEK_ROAD,_CUDLEE_CREEK #fire. Take action now as this bushfire may threaten your safety. If you are not prepared, leave now and if the path is clear, go to a safer place. #WAM ID=0003854 #SAFires https://t.co/ikwGaxAuY6 pic.twitter.com/z52gs3qZPW

— Country Fire Service (@CFSAlerts) December 23, 2019

NSW premier says communities could take years to rebuild

Premier Gladys Berejiklian says NSW communities including Dargon and Balmoral ravaged by bushfires could “take years to rebuild”.

But she denied there was any shortage of supplies to fight the fires, saying RFS volunteers had the resources they needed.

We have made sure our emergency services personnel have all the resources they need, whether it is equipment, whether it is support, whether it is counselling services – whatever is required to support them.

She told a press conference that local firefighters were unwilling to leave their posts to take breaks.

They are fighting to save their properties, their neighbours’ properties ... We need the combination of local expertise, but also giving relief to the locals who find it difficult to leave their posts, especially when they know their communities the best. We have always said to the commissioner and deputy commissioner if there is more we need to do, we will.

Updated

'The threat is by no means passed for the Blue Mountains': RFS

NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers has warned against complacency in the cooler weather.

He told a press briefing the RFS would attempt to take advantage of the cooler conditions over the coming days by undertaking hazard reduction burns, but “the threat is by no means passed for the Blue Mountains”.

There is a lot of fire in the area and there is a lot more work to do. Hopefully, if crews can get these backburns in place, we can start to reduce the threat to the Blue Mountains. But I think it is fair to say that the next few days will be very important to try and get those burns in place and then hopefully it won’t be so much of a risk as we go into the next batch of warm weather.

Updated

Morrison has also downplayed claims that his office lied about his overseas holiday. Paul Karp writes:

Although several journalists reported that the prime minister’s office had denied he was in Hawaii, Morrison deflected a question about the lack of transparency by claiming it was an “issue the media’s got very excited about and my political opponents are seeking to exploit”.

Updated

Scott Morrison has claimed climate change is “as important now” – amid an extended bushfire crisis and a record-breaking heatwave – as it was at the election and denied that the government was split over whether to improve Australia’s policy response, writes Paul Karp.

Updated

NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay has released this video with the member for the Blue Mountains and spokeswoman on emergency services, Trish Doyle. McKay says:

I’ve been asking for 10 days now what defence force personnel is actually helping with the fire and where are they, how many? ... The defence personnel could actually be used to go door to door and help people prepare their properties.

I’m in Lithgow today where people are picking up the pieces.

Residents are telling us loud and clear the Premier should have requested defence personnel here - and must do so for communities threatened by fire in future. pic.twitter.com/aOJlBBOmqX

— Jodi McKay (@JodiMcKayMP) December 22, 2019

Updated

As more images and stories of the #SAFires come through I thought I’d share a few “good news” pics of my much better half tending to some of the luckier #koalas pic.twitter.com/dW1cdpJ8Oh

— James Gilchrist Stewart (@DrJGStewart) December 22, 2019

The Currowan fire has merged with the Tianjana fire.

Advice - Currowan Fire incl Tianjana fire (Shoalhaven LGA)

This fire has merged with the Tianjara fire & both fires will be referred to as the Currowan fire.

This large fire is burning between Sussex Inlet & Tianjara in the N, Braidwood in the W & Batemans Bay in the S. #nswrfs pic.twitter.com/ichAcVONTW

— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 22, 2019

“No, Gladys, we haven’t been destroyed,” says the NSW town of Balmoral.

The people of Balmoral Village have a message for NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian this morning. @GuardianAus pic.twitter.com/h57hjj7AK2

— Mikearoo (@mpbowers) December 22, 2019

Updated

In case you missed it, here are Helen Davidson and Jessica Hromas reporting from the fire ground in NSW yesterday:

The air is eerily still. There is no wind. There are no birds. There is no natural noise, just the distant chatter of helicopters in the sky, flying between water source and flames.

Updated

Widespread smoke over southern & eastern #Victoria today reducing visibility to 4km in places. Smoke from the #nswfires is affecting the NE, while fires in Gippsland & the SW are causing hazy conditions in the south https://t.co/QZATjAUSFj Check air quality info at @EPA_Victoria pic.twitter.com/5rKPlTL21E

— Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@BOM_Vic) December 22, 2019

State-by-state breakdown of the bushfire crisis

New South Wales

  • 110 fires, of which almost 60 are uncontained.
  • 2 volunteer firefighters, Geoff Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer, killed as well as four others on the mid-north coast: Vivian Chaplain, 69, and George Nole, Julie Fletcher, 63, and an unnamed 58-year-old man.
  • 100 buildings destroyed over weekend alone.
  • Smoke continues to affect Sydney.
  • Fires: Gospers Mountain blaze (areas hardest hit include Lithgow and along the Bells Line of Road in the upper Blue Mountains); Green Wattle Creek fire (devastating Wollondilly Shire villages of Buxton and Bargo, and wiping out small town of Balmoral); Currowan blaze (has hit communities near Nerriga, north of Batemans Bay).

Victoria

  • Two blazes still burning uncontrolled in Tambo Crossing in East Gippsland and Hotspur, Digby, in the western district.
  • Bushfires in East Gippsland burning since Thursday
  • Cooler conditions have given firefighters a reprieve but smoke from the fires and from NSW expected to make air quality hazardous.

South Australia

  • Huge fire burning in Adelaide Hills.
  • One killed (Ron Selth, 69), three more in hospital with burns.
  • 25,000 hectares burned within a 127km perimeter.
  • 72 homes confirmed lost along with 404 other buildings and 227 vehicles over the weekend.
  • Significant losses to crops, including vineyards and hundreds of sheep killed.
  • Most concern centred on difficult terrain around the Kangaroo Creek Reservoir at Castambul.

Queensland

  • About 60 fires burning within containment lines across the state.
  • Severe fire conditions in the central highlands and Coalfields and upper Flinders region in central Queensland.
  • Cooler conditions, some rain expected around Christmas Eve.
  • Smoke haze from NSW fires.

Western Australia

  • Lives and homes threatened by bushfires in Perth’s Hills region around Roleystone. in the city’s south-east and a massive blaze at Yanchep, north of Perth, last week before being downgraded.
  • Firefighters battled heatwave conditions for much of the six-day fire, saving thousands of properties.
  • One house and a Yanchep petrol station were destroyed; about 13,000 hectares were burned.

Tasmania

  • Two bushfires north of Launceston were brought under control at the end of November.

Northern Territory
NT last saw major fires in September when there were nine active fire grounds.

(Thanks to AAP for the summary).

Updated

I think everyone in the country is united in the hope that these easing conditions will help our firefighters get on top of the fires, and maybe get a little bit of a break over Christmas.

Most of #NSW saw dry north-westerly winds and hot temperatures last week. This week we are looking at a much milder conditions especially along the East & Coastal areas with moist north-easterly winds. For more visit: https://t.co/pVotTQ8LbK #NSWRFS pic.twitter.com/J7zW0qqq23

— Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales (@BOM_NSW) December 22, 2019

#AirQuality forecast for today: Moderate air quality is expected for Melbourne and Geelong. Very poor air quality is forecast for the Latrobe Valley. Smoky conditions expected. View your local air quality at EPA AirWatch: https://t.co/x3FPiMeu7N pic.twitter.com/mBrjQdgUgU

— EPA Victoria (@EPA_Victoria) December 22, 2019

A number of roads remained closed as firefighters, energy providers, tree loppers and councils work to clear dangerous trees and fire affected power poles. This will result in a number of roads remaining closed for a number of days. #NSWRFS https://t.co/w7ibjFQhfp

— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 22, 2019

Here is a snapshot of the bushfire devastation across the country

A summary of the crisis so far, according to AAP.

  • Almost 200 fires burning across the country.
  • Seven people have been killed.
  • More than 900 homes lost in this year’s bushfire season: NSW – 789; Queensland – 40; South Australia – 72; Western Australia – 1.
  • Thousands of outbuildings destroyed or damaged, stock and crops destroyed.
  • 2,000 koalas feared killed

Updated

Morrison says push to do more to tackle climate crisis in response to bushfires is 'politically motivated' panic

Hi Amy Corderoy taking over the blog from Calla Wahlquist this morning.

The prime minister Scott Morrison has characterised the push for him to do more on climate change in response to the fires crisis as a “politically motivated” panic that he will not be intimidated by.

Here is is full response to journalist Monique Wright’s question about whether community feeling has changed in regard to climate change given what has happened over the past week.

I think the need to take action as we are on climate change and the science of that is as true as we went to the last election as it is to now. And the plans that we have are as important now as it is to then, we will beat our Kyoto targets, we will meet our Paris targets and I intend to beat those as well. We have record investments in renewable energy and I look forward to welcoming more of that. Emissions on average under our government are 50 million tonnes lower than under the previous government, and power prices as the ACCC showed yesterday coming down by $65 a year as a direct result of our policies. But what I won’t do Monique is I’ll never panic. I don’t think panic is a way to manage anything. The urge for panic that has come from some, often politically motivated, to pursue a particular agenda, is not something I’m ever intimidated by, or distracted by.

The full interview has been posted by Sunrise on Twitter:

FULL INTERVIEW: Prime Minister @ScottMorrisonMP joined Sunrise to answer criticism about taking a holiday while the country burned, and ruling out changes to climate policy. #auspol pic.twitter.com/x3LQplGaUR

— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) December 22, 2019

Updated

Dear Santa, Australia is burning. We need rain. #drought #NSWbushfires #fires #qldbushfires #AustraliaFires pic.twitter.com/nLyWaagHoO

— Frankston Community Noticeboard (@FrankstonCNB) December 22, 2019

Devastating interview with Captain of the Balmoral fire brigade, Brendan O'Connor, on @RadioNational Breakfast just now. They ran out of water while fighting the blaze. He says no government officials, of any level, has visited. Feeling very overlooked.

— Penny Timms (@pennytimms) December 22, 2019

Speaking of emissions, Guardian Australia’s environment editor Adam Morton reports that Australia’s actual emissions are “significantly higher than previously believed for the years when Labor was in power, and no longer rise each year since the Coalition repealed the carbon price”.

Updated

SA premier Steven Marshall said rapid damage assessment teams began working on Kangaroo Island on Sunday and are moving through fire-affected areas, which means that the number of homes and buildings confirmed destroyed or damaged is likely to increase.

As of 8pm last night, Marshall told ABC 24, the number of homes destroyed were at 86, with 500 outbuildings and “hundreds of vehicles” also destroyed.

He said there was also “extensive losses in terms of livestock animals, pets and massive crop damage, massive damage to vineyards. In total over 40,000 hectares completely destroyed here in SA in just three days. It is an extraordinary situation”.

Marshall was also asked about the climate emergency. He skirted a question about whether Scott Morrison’s response had been adequate, but said that he was personally convinced of the link between a changing climate and worsening bushfires. Says Marshall:

That is my opinion and that is the opinion of, I think, the the vast majority of scientists that exist. We have got to do everything we can to make ourselves more climate resilient and that is what we’re doing in SA.

SA has a strategy of net zero emissions by 2050. Victoria also has a strategy of net zero by 2050, and the ACT is aiming for net zero by 2045.

Updated

86 homes destroyed in South Australian fires, premier says

We start the day’s live coverage of the bushfire crisis with the news that the number of houses destroyed in the Cudlee Creek bushfire has been revised up to 86.

South Australian premier Steven Marshall said on Monday that the full extent of the damage to the Adelaide Hills was still being assessed, but that a significant proportion of the 25,000ha burned included vineyards and apple and pear orchards.

The man who died trying to defend his Charleston home in that fire has been identified as 69-year-old Ron Selth. Selth has been remembered by his family for his “incredible, sometimes injury-causing hugs”.

Meanwhile, prime minister Scott Morrison says he will not be swayed by “posturing” on the climate emergency that is “taking advantage of natural disasters”.

Morrison said on Sunrise this morning:

We won’t engage in reckless and job-destroying and economy-crunching targets which have been seeking to be postured to us at the moment, taking advantage of natural disasters because no Australian would think that the direct policies of any single government in the world is directly linked to any fire event, that is not true.

Morrison said the challenge of climate change had not changed since May, which is true. Guardian Australia editor Lenore Taylor had some thoughts on the adequacy, or inadequacy, of the government’s response on climate change. You can read that here.

Energy minister Angus Taylor repeated what appears to be the official government line that there is nothing unusual about the current bushfire crisis, saying in a Facebook post that there have “always been” bushfires.

Here’s part of that post:

These fires have been a huge challenge and a disaster for so many, but it will rain again and the fires will go out. (And there’ll be bushfires again, as there always have been.) We must pull together in times like these – not politicise or finger point – and that is my fundamental message as we go into Christmas.

And finally, Greta Thunberg had this to say about Australia’s bushfire crisis and lack of response to global heating.

Not even catastrophes like these seem to bring any political action. How is this possible?
Because we still fail to make the connection between the climate crisis and increased extreme weather events and nature disasters like the #AustraliaFires
That's what has to change.
Now. https://t.co/DQcZViKJQz

— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) December 22, 2019

Updated

Contributors

Josh Taylor, Amy Corderoy and Calla Wahlquist

The GuardianTramp

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