Australia — Rainand fresh reinforcements from the United States look set to give Victoria’sexhausted firefighters a much-needed break, authorities said today.
A dump of rain across much of the state overnight and today helped ease thebushfire threat but officials warned it could be months before the crisis wasover.
Up to 100 firefighters from the US are due to arrive in Melbourne on Mondayand Tuesday to join the massive effort to contain blazes that have blackenedmore than a million hectares since the first outbreaks on December 1.
Today’s rain has given firefighters the chance to get closer to many frontsbut it has also made it more difficult to get vehicles into areas of steepterrain, Department of Sustainability and Environment spokesman Stuart Ordtold AAP.
“It’s possible we’ll get substantial rainfall on Sunday but we reallyneed 100 millimetres or 150 millimetres of rain to do a good job on the fires,”he said.
“While the rain was welcome, it also meant there was little chance offurther backburning operations, Mr Ord said, adding: “It really is adouble-edged sword.”
One bushfire still causing concern today was the 8,000-hectare HermitMountain fire, south-east of Corryong, in Victoria’s north-east.
It was still burning on both sides of the Murray River and a potential threatto the NSW ski resort at Thredbo.
“The Hermit Mountain fire is still presenting significant problems forfirefighters, but the key message is that we cannot pretend that the overallsituation is nearly over,” Mr Ord said.
“Fire crews are going to be busy for several weeks yet continuing toblack out spot fires.”
His concerns were echoed by Victoria’s emergency services commissionerBruce Esplin who stressed it would be months before the bushfire crisis was over.
“Most of Victoria will be prone to fire, there’s no part that’s immune.Nobody can be complacent and nobody can say that it will be over after theweekend,” Mr Esplin told Sky News.
“There is still a couple of months at least to go.”
Officials also admit that the current crisis could be worse than the 2003 fires,which raged for 59 days and scorched more than 1.3 million hectares.
“That year was the last time American firefighters were brought in,”Mr Ord said.
The US contingent, due to arrive next week, will also relieve New Zealandfirefighters who are heading home, while Western Australia has announced it willsend 38 firefighters to Victoria.
The front line fire crews and sector commanders from the Department ofEnvironment and Conservation and the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA)are due to arrive in Victoria next week.