Bushfire Crisis: Conditions Easing But Threat Far From Over

Easing conditions across the country have allowed firefighters gain the upper hand on a number of fires, although authorities warn the threat is still not over.

National medical stockpiles of particulate-filter masks will be opened up to help authorities on bushfire front lines in Victoria and NSW.

The federal government will also send 100,000 P2 masks to the ACT to help vulnerable people in the capital, Chief Minister Andrew Barr says.

The smoke in Canberra has caused shops, institutions and public facilities to close, with the CBD shopping centre the latest to shut shop on Sunday.

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The federal government will send 450,000 masks from the national medical stockpile to help Victorian authorities.

It was also working to get masks to NSW frontline workers, having already provided 3000 to Australian Federal Police officers in bushfire affected areas.

Here's what we know at 10pm:

New South Wales

Authorities fear hundreds of homes may have been lost in southern NSW with the premier saying the state is in "unchartered territory" despite conditions easing.

A 47-year-old man died of a cardiac arrest on Saturday night while defending a friend's rural property near Batlow, southwest of Canberra, while thousands of others across NSW are anxiously waiting to find out if their homes survived.



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A third-generation timber worker has been named as the second victim of the Victorian Bushfires.

"We can't pretend this is something we have experienced before - it's not," Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Sunday.

"The weather activity we're seeing, the extent and spread of the fires, the speed at which they're going, the way in which they're attacking communities who've never ever seen fire before, is unprecedented."

There were 150 bushfires burning in NSW on Sunday afternoon with 60 uncontained.

There were none at an "emergency" warning level at 4pm but eight remained at "watch and act".

NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons warned NSW residents not to become complacent.

"We are seeing an easing of conditions right across the state and there's even a bit of drizzle down on the South Coast," the commissioner told reporters.

"It's certainly a welcome reprieve ... but, unfortunately, it's not putting out the fires and it's not helping us with furthering back burning and consolidation work."

Mr Fitzsimmons said crews this week would try and put in additional containment lines before warmer and windier conditions returned by next weekend.

The RFS commissioner said people needed to remain vigilant because "complacency kills".

Fires near Nowra. Image: AAP

Crews are conducting surveys to determine how many homes were lost this weekend, but the RFS suspects it was hundreds.

Areas thought to be hardest hit include Bundanoon, Wingello, Batlow, Adelong, the Jervis Bay area, southwest of Nowra, Boydtown, Kiah, Wonboyn, Towamba and Cabramurra.

A number of hospitals and health services had to be relocated from Tumbarumba, Batlow, Pambula, Delegate and Tumut.

"It was an awful day yesterday - it was a very difficult day," Mr Fitzsimmons said.

"We are getting reports that the property losses, the damage and destruction, is likely to be numbering in the hundreds as a result of yesterday's fire activity and fire spread."

At one stage on Saturday afternoon there were 13 bushfires burning at an emergency level.

"That's second only to what we saw a couple of months ago where 17 concurrent fires were burning (at emergency)," Mr Fitzsimmons said.

Two firefighters suffered smoke inhalation overnight while protecting water infrastructure in the South Coast town of Milton.

A statewide total fire ban is in place on Sunday while a week-long state of emergency - the third in as many months - continues.

The M5 was briefly closed in Sydney due to smoke from a bushfire near Liverpool.


Premier Daniel Andrews has confirmed four Victorians are still unaccounted for in fire-affected areas, where the danger is far from over despite cooler conditions.

Mr Andrews also confirmed that while smoky conditions made rescue operations challenging, more people had been airlifted out of Mallacoota on Sunday.

Sixty one people had left the town on Sunday morning on Australian Defence Force helicopters and a ship, and another 350 had indicated they wanted to leave. A further 400 still remained by the coast.

Cooler conditions and light rain forecast on Sunday were hoped to give crews fighting the deadly blazes in the state's east and northeast some respite, as 18 communities remain cut off and significant property losses loom, authorities say.

As at 4.30pm, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp confirmed that more than a million hectares have burnt, 800,000 of them in East Gippsland alone.

Two emergency warnings remain in place after the evacuation alert for the Harrietville area was downgraded, with 23 watch and acts alerts issued for East Gippsland and the north east of Victoria.

Authorities are yet to obtain a clear picture of losses but concede they will be "significant".

Despite conditions providing some relief, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp urged Victorians to remain vigilant, saying the weather will start to warm up on Thursday and Friday.

"What we are seeing with our weather, is yes, it is milder, it's more moderate, there has actually been some rain. But in terms of people thinking that this rain is going to put the fires out, that's not the case," Mr Crisp said.

"There has been such a drought, particularly in the East Gippsland area, we know these fires are with us for a long time."

A state of emergency remains in place for Victoria throughout next week.

A tree smoulders following a bushfire in Bruthen South, Victoria, Saturday, January 4, 2019. Image: AAP


Firefighters in Tasmania will use coming days to try to control a number of blazes before conditions are forecast to again worsen.

Eight bushfires continued to burn on Sunday, three of them sparking a "watch and act" alert, the Tasmania Fire Service reported.

"Firefighters, supported by machinery and aircraft will take advantage of favourable weather conditions over the coming days to build and strengthen control lines on all fires, before the fire danger may increase later in the week," the service said in a statement.

One of the areas of most concern is a series of fires near Fingal in the state's northeast.

The Fingal blazes started on December 29 and have burnt about 14630 hectares. Police believe some of the fires were deliberately lit.

About 100 firefighters are battling the flames together with seven aircraft.

A fire at Pelham, northwest of Hobart, has claimed a home, 13 vehicles and 11 outbuildings, but is within containment lines.

Smoke blankets swathes of Tasmania and there are numerous road closures due to fires, with assessments underway for the removal of unsafe trees.

Temperatures in parts of the state are due to reach 30C by Thursday.

South Australia

A total fire ban has been declared across Kangaroo Island as Country Fire Service crews race to quell areas still burning ahead of deteriorating conditions this week.

Cooler weather and some rain across the fireground on Saturday and Sunday brought some relief with the focus of locals shifting towards damage assessment and recovery.

But authorities imposed the fire ban for Monday as temperatures across SA were forecast to push into the mid to high 30s by Wednesday.

A bushfire advice remains in place for the western half of the island with the eastern edge of the fireground extending from the north to the south coast.

More than 155,000 hectares have been burnt within a 300-kilometre perimeter, including large parts of the Flinders Chase National Park, with many homes, farms and other buildings lost along with tourism and service infrastructure.

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Two people who died in the bushfires at Kangaroo Island have been identified as a father and son who were well known in their community, their family has confirmed in a statement.

Two lives have also been lost with outback pilot Dick Lang, 78, and his 43-year-old son Clayton Lang killed when their car became trapped by flames near Parndana.

Among those properties extensively damaged were the luxury Southern Ocean Lodge, on the west coast, and the Western Districts Football and Netball Clubs.

Also damaged was the Middle River Water Treatment Plant prompting SA Water to urge island residents to limit non-essential water use.

The plant was used to supply Kingscote, Parndana and surrounding areas with water now being drawn from the Penneshaw Desalination Plant.

About 600 properties remain without power, with SA Power Networks working to restore services.

The CFS said on Sunday that while conditions across the island had eased the danger was not over.

"There are still patches of active fire along the edge, especially in the area around Stokes Bay," the CFS said.

"Residents need to stay alert for new fires in their area. There is the potential for flare-ups as winds pick up in the afternoon and the risk will increase later in the week with warmer, windier weather."

Water-bombing aircraft will continue to work across the fire zone in coming days as ground crews deal with any new fires and conduct mopping-up operations.

About 80 Australian Defence Force personnel have also arrived on the island as the state government appointed wildlife official Mike Williams to lead the recovery.