Rain and cooler temperatures have brought some relief to bushfire-ravaged areas of Australia, but firefighters have warned it’s not enough to quell the flames.
Australian authorities began assessing the damage on Sunday from heatwave-spurred bushfires that swept through two states a day earlier, as a brief break in the searing temperatures provided a temporary respite from blazes that have scarred the country’s east coast for weeks.
Despite the welcome change, officials have warned that the light rain would prove no match for the almost 200 fires burning in the region.
“It certainly is a welcome reprieve, it is psychological relief if nothing else,” New South Wales (NSW) state Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said in an afternoon briefing on the situation. “But unfortunately it is not putting out the fires.”
More than £14m has been raised in just 48 hours through a Facebook fundraiser to help the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, organised by Australian comedian Celeste Barber, with close to 670,000 people donating.
On Sunday the world’s number one tennis player Ashleigh Barty pledged to donate all of her Brisbane International prize money to the bushfire appeal – a competition in which the winner takes home more than £190,000 ($360,000 in Australian currency), the Guardian reported.
It emerged on Saturday that American singer Pink had donated half a million US dollars (£382,043) to fire services in Australia, while Nicole Kidman said on Instagram that her family were also donating $500,000.
The financial support comes as tens-thousands of families were forced to flee their homes as the flames approached, with thousands of people also cut off from power supplies.
A large-scale military and police effort continued on Sunday to provide supplies and evacuate thousands of people who have been trapped for days in coastal towns by the fires.
Initial estimates put damaged or destroyed properties in the hundreds, but authorities said the mass evacuations by residents of at-risk areas appear to have prevented major loss of life. Twenty-four people have been killed since the start of this year’s wildfire season.
Fire officials said temperatures were expected to rise again during the week and the next major flashpoint would come by Thursday, but it was too early to gauge the likely severity of the threat.
“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 are attacking communities who have never ever seen fire before is unprecedented,” NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
Thousands of people have been evacuated from coastal towns at the peak of the summer holiday season, in one of the biggest coordinated operations since the evacuation of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy flattened the northern city in 1974.
Australia has been battling blazes across much of its east coast for months, with experts saying climate change has been a major factor in a three-year drought that has left much of the country’s bushland tinder-dry and susceptible to fires.