Australia — Insurance claims have reached $61 million as authorities confirm at least 35 homes have been destroyed and another 42 “impacted” during the deadly bushfires in South Australia’s Mid North.
The blaze, known as the Pinery fire, has now been contained.
The Country Fire Service (CFS) clarified that 35 homes had been destroyed, up from 16 yesterday, and dozens of others impacted after a spokesman addressing a press conference this morning originally said 77 homes had been destroyed.
At least 166 sheds have also been lost in the fire, authorities said.
While the fire has been contained, the CFS said there was still some active fire well within the control lines, so “risks are still present”.
Roads in the fire ground have been reopened by SA Police, allowing residents to return to their homes and assess any damage.
Insurance Council of Australia said as of 9:30am, insurers had received 415 claims from policy holders, with more expected.
The council’s chief executive Rob Whelan said the region’s agricultural sector had been hardest hit. Allan Tiller and Janet Hughes
“These fires have had a devastating impact on the farming community with crop, stock and commercial assets making up the overwhelming bulk of the losses so far,” Mr Whelan said.
The CFS said 75 per cent of the fire had been contained and there had been no increase in the fire area in the past 24 hours.
Yesterday, a man who lost his life fighting the fires was named as 69-year-old farmer Allan Tiller from Pinery, who was described as a “terrific, community-minded man”.
Janet Hughes, 56, from Hamley Bridge also died as the fire swept across the lower northern region of the state, north of Adelaide, while 19 people have been injured.
Fire crews including CFS, MFS and Victorian resources spent the night on the fire ground monitoring flare ups.
The fire has burnt 82,600 hectares and has a 265-kilometre perimeter.
Hay sheds, stacks and bales are continuing to burn, producing embers and large amounts of smoke.
CFS’s Leigh Miller said teams were still assessing damage and the confirmed number of homes destroyed had risen from 16 yesterday.
“There’s still a fair bit more work to do with that team probably working in the the area for the rest of the day. We can expect to find a few more properties damaged.”
He said crew numbers had been bolstered by 320 firefighters from Victoria.
“What we are looking to do before next Monday when we are getting some more warmer weather is consolidating the fire edge and blacking out anything that might be bump burning inside the fire ground,” he said.
Earlier a CFS statement said the fire was not expected to increase in size under current weather conditions.
“Reports from the aircraft are that there is no active fire around the perimeter,” it read.
But it noted there were pockets of scrub “flaring up within the fire ground that may threaten assets and make travel in the area unsafe.”
SA Police said roads are open but drivers are being asked to be careful as power lines are down, trees are across roads and emergency crews are working in the area. Community meeting at Mallala
A community meeting was held at Mallala this morning and another will be held at Kapunda Institute Memorial Hall, Hill Street at 4:00pm.
Residents packed into the Mallala Institute to hear how authorities were coordinating the recovery.
CFS volunteers received a round of applause for their efforts.
The gathering heard from representatives from the CFS, police, Country Women’s Association and the Returned Services League.
There were offers of clothing and toiletries to help residents who had lost their homes.
Crews tackle hay shed blazes
ABC reporter Loukas Founten, who spent the night in the Freeling and Roseworthy area, said several hay sheds were still burning.
Farmer Ben Kemp has spent the last two nights camped at his property near Roseworthy to ensure a large hay shed fire did not spread to a nearby house.
He was helping fight the fire near Mallala when it first started but quickly realized his own property was also at risk.
Mr Kemp said his cattle and sheep escaped through a fence and he has been able to restrict the damage to the shed.
“We are all still here. We haven’t lost any houses or anything. We have just lost the hay shed there with 1,000 bales of new season’s hay,” Mr Kemp said.
“We were lucky to save a couple hundred round bales which we had stacked elsewhere.”
SA Power Networks said it was continuing to restore power to properties in the region.
Overnight about 360 properties were without power.
SA Water said water supply had been restored to all area affected by low pressure or no supply due to power outages.
It tweeted that people may find water has an odour or taste but it is safe to drink.
Several schools have been closed for the day in fire-affected areas, while others are offering modified programs.
School bus and school taxi services were “expected to be heavily impacted,” the Department for Education and Child Development said.
“The safety of children and school staff is our priority, and it is in their best interests that these schools and preschools are closed,” the department’s infrastructure executive director Ross Treadwell said.
Bushfire seasons starting earlier a worrying trend
Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre chief Richard Thornton said the fires reflected a worrying trend of Australian fire seasons starting earlier and ending later.
He said the early start further stretched volunteer firefighters.
“The core message from this is that even as early as September in some parts of our country we’re starting to see fires,” he said.
“People need to be prepared for that not just focus on January and February being the times of peak fires.”
Premier Jay Weatherill said the losses were still being assessed and those numbers were likely to rise.
Mr Weatherill said relief grants would be available for families affected by the bushfire up to $280 in cash per adult and $140 per child up to a maximum of $700 per family.
The grants are available from relief centres which have been set up at Gawler, Balaklava and Clare.