Bushfire Crisis: States Begin Assessing Damage After Horror Fire Week
Hundreds of homes have been lost and dozens of communities left devastated in what has been a horrific week of catastrophic bushfires across the country.
With hundreds of fires still burning across much of Australia, here's what you need to know this Sunday evening about this week's ongoing bushfire emergency.
'Awful' New South Wales Conditions
Exhausted fire crews across the state have had a slight reprieve on Sunday after a catastrophic fire day on Saturday ravaged a number of communities.
As at 11pm on Sunday night, two fires were at watch and act alert with just under 100 blazes still burning across the state, half of which are uncontained.
The Gospers Mountain blaze in the Lithgow and Hawkesbury area and the Grose Valley fire in the Blue Mountains remained on watch and act alert after sparking emergency warnings on Saturday.
On Sunday night, crews in the Central Coast District also successfully contained the Three Mile Fire. The blaze has a perimeter of over 500 kilometres.
At the height of the catastrophic conditions on Saturday, up to seven fires were burning at an emergency level.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons described Saturday as "awful" for firefighters, with up to 20 homes lost to the immense Gospers Mountain fire northwest of Sydney alone.
At least two more properties were razed near Batemans Bay on the south coast, and others at Balmoral southwest of Sydney.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the extent of property damage, which includes houses as well as other structures such as sheds, is "significant".
"We could be talking about another hundred buildings being added to the state tally so far this season," he told reporters on Sunday.
"We are expecting another heavy toll unfortunately with estimates that property loss could be in the dozens of buildings including homes, outbuildings, sheds and businesses."
The small town of Balmoral is one of many that have been devastated by the fires, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying "there isn't much left" of Balmoral after a blaze swept through the area.
In some good news, an elderly man whose home was consumed by flames in Dargan on Saturday night was thankfully found safe and sound on Sunday morning.
A second man who was unaccounted for in the rural area of Bell on Sunday, was also found safe later that afternoon.
A number of firefighters were taken to hospital on Saturday for treatment for heat exhaustion. Earlier this week, two volunteer firefighters were killed while on duty at the Green Wattle Creek blaze when their truck rolled.
As conditions begin to ease for firefighters, the RFS said crews would take advantage of the favourable conditions in the coming days -- including mid-20s temperatures, higher humidity and easterly winds -- to construct and consolidate containment lines.
On Sunday, large scale backburns were also planned for the Blue Mountains region to contain the Grose River fire.
Exhausted crews were also being helped by an additional 30 Canadian and nine American personnel who flew in over the weekend, as well as defense crews who are working with RFS aviation rescue crews to check on homes that have been cut off by fires.
With forecasts predicting close to a week of advantageous conditions across NSW, Fitzsimmons said his crews would 'make hay' before tougher conditions were expected to return later in the week or next weekend.
He also warned that any "meaningful rain" which could significantly ease conditions wasn't expected to reach fire grounds until late January or early February.
Meanwhile, on Sunday morning, Scott Morrison visited RFS headquarters in Sydney for a briefing on the emergency situation, before addressing for the first time the controversy surrounding his family holiday in Hawaii.
The Prime Minister apologised and said he may have made "different decisions" with the benefit of hindsight, but defended his holiday because he had made a promise to his young daughters -- adding "it's time to be kind to each other".
'Absolute Devastation' In South Australia
The number of homes confirmed to have been destroyed in the catastrophic fire emergency that gripped South Australia this week soared on Sunday.
State authorities said at least 72 homes, more than 400 other buildings and at least 227 vehicles were lost in a number of fires that ravaged parts of the state.
But that number is expected to rise even further, after some residents in Adelaide Hills were allowed to start returning to their homes on Sunday to survey the damage from a fire that burned through more than 25,000 hectares.
As at 10:30pm on Sunday, one fire remains at watch and act level in South Australia.
Communities near the Cudlee Creek fire were told to take action immediately with the ongoing blaze threatening lives.
"This scrub fire is burning in a north-westerly direction towards Paracombe, Castambul, Montacute, Gorge Road, Millbrook, Inglewood and Kersbrook. Conditions are continually changing," the Country Fire Service said.
"If you are not prepared, leave now and if the path is clear, go to a safer place."
The Coopers Road at Duncan fire was also at a watch and act level for much of the day but was downgraded to an advisory level on Sunday night, as it continued burning on Kangaroo Island.
"The Coopers Road fire at Duncan is not yet contained but the fire's spread has been slowed," the CFS said.
"Residents in the area are advised to remain vigilant and to continue checking and following your Bushfire Survival Plan."
On Sunday, Premier Steven Marshall said these were "extraordinarily difficult times" for South Australia.
"It's scenes of absolute devastation, families in shock as they return to their homes and all they find is rubble."
At least 23 firefighters, two police officers and 29 other people injured in the state's fire emergency this week and, sadly, it was also confirmed 69-year-old Ron Selth died while trying to defend his property at Charleston.
Victoria To Face Smoky Conditions On Monday
Two bushfires burning in the southwest and southeast parts of Victoria remain under watch and act warnings as of 10:30pm on Sunday night.
The Tambo Crossing and Hotspur, Digby fires are both burning out-of-control with residents being urged to stay vigilant as conditions could easily change.
"Emergency Services may not be able to help you if you decide to stay," the VicEmergency website stated.
Several other fires remained under advice warnings across the state.
It comes as Victoria was given a slight reprieve on Sunday following several fire emergencies in the last week.
Milder conditions during the weekend helped fire crews strengthen containment lines, with many fires burning in inaccessible terrain.
Victorians have now also been warned to prepare for hazardous air quality on Monday, with winds forecast to drag smoke from bushfires burning in East Gippsland and in NSW.
"Melbourne and the Latrobe Valley are expected to experience smoky conditions from the early hours of Monday morning until late Tuesday," the Environment Protection Authority warned.
"People who are sensitive to air pollution could have symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath."
On Monday, CFA Chief Officer and CEO Steve Warrington will visit the East Gippsland fires -- which have been burning since Thursday -- as the Moyne, Southern Grampians and Warrnambool areas enter Fire Danger Period.
When a Fire Danger Period is declared, fires can't be lit in open air without a permit or complying with certain requirements.
Queensland Smoke Haze Largely From NSW Fires
A haze of smoke which descended across parts of Queensland on Sunday and prompted a health alert was largely due to the bushfires still raging in NSW, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
Forecaster Jess Gardner said the smoke's reach was incredibly extensive.
"You can see the smoke on the satellite images, certainly across the majority of Queensland and I think it's crossing most of Australia," she said.
Firefighters battled around 60 blazes on Sunday that were burning within containment lines. None were posing a significant concern for authorities, but with severe fire conditions in the Central Highlands and Coalfields and Upper Flinders regions, residents were still warned to remain vigilant.
Southeast Queensland was forecast to reach the peak of the current heatwave conditions on Sunday, while the western parts of the state expected to hit temperatures in the low to mid-40s.
While the hot conditions are expected to continue, Gardner said there was a good chance up to 50mm of rain could fall in parts of southeast Queensland around Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, before easing on Boxing Day.
"For the southeast we could certainly see a bit of a wet Christmas which is definitely a good thing for most people but further out west it will be pretty warm and dry," she said.
Regions outside southeast Queensland can expect a hot Christmas, with temperatures in the mid-40s, or four to eight degrees above average.