SYDNEY • Bush fire conditions eased in Australia yesterday after a gruelling night for firefighters, with the authorities saying they expect at least a week of milder weather in which to step up defences against the huge blazes still burning.
Cooler temperatures and rainfall had eased conditions after Friday's strong southerly wind change that packed gusts of more than 100kmh, whipping some fires on the east coast up to the emergency warning level.
The much-needed respite was an opportunity to consolidate and try to get the upper hand over the fires, said Mr Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.
"It would appear that we have got at least a week," Mr Fitzsimmons told a media briefing. "It will probably be the best seven days we have had without a rise of very dangerous fire ratings."
New South Wales police said in a statement that areas not affected by the bush fires of the South Coast, a popular holiday destination, are in a position to reopen for business, although national parks remain closed until Feb 1.
Officials have been urging foreign tourists to continue visiting Australia, which depends on income from tourism as the industry accounts for 3.1 per cent of the country's gross domestic product.
South Australian fire officials said the situation on Kangaroo Island has stabilised after more than 200,000ha had burned in blazes described as "hell on earth" by the island's mayor, Mr Michael Pengilly, on Twitter.
Since October, at least 26 people have been killed in Australia and thousands subjected to repeat evacuations as huge and unpredictable fires scorched an area roughly the size of South Korea.
Despite yesterday's respite, the authorities were clear that the risk was far from over.
"It is great to have some respite now, so we can reset and refocus in terms of our operational activities and what we can do to support community, but we will have more hot weather," Mr Andrew Crisp, Victoria's emergency management commissioner, told reporters.