EDEN (Australia)• • A global appeal to help Australian firefighters tackling catastrophic bush fires raised more than A$25 million (S$23.4 million) yesterday, as the government said it was willing to pay "whatever it takes" to help communities recover from the deadly blazes that have ravaged the country.
Australian comedian Celeste Barber used her international social media fame to launch a Facebook fund raiser for firefighters that surpassed its A$25 million target in just three days with donations from all over the globe.
American pop star Pink said she would donate US$500,000 (S$674,700) to the firefighters, a donation matched by Australian actress Nicole Kidman.
World No. 1 tennis player Ashleigh Barty pledged to hand over all her winnings from this week's Brisbane International tournament - potentially US$250,000 - to the Red Cross.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was committing an extra A$2 billion towards the recovery effort, in addition to the tens of millions of dollars that have already been committed.
"The fires are still burning. And they'll be burning for months to come," Mr Morrison said. "And so, that's why I outlined today that this is an initial, an additional, investment of A$2 billion. If more is needed and the cost is higher, then more will be provided."
Rain and cooler temperatures were bringing some measure of relief to the communities battling wildfires. But the rain was also making it challenging for fire crews to complete strategic burns as they tried to prepare for higher temperatures that have been forecast for later in the week.
"With the more benign weather conditions, it presents some wonderful relief for everybody, the firefighters, the emergency services personnel, but also the communities affected by these fires," Mr Shane Fitzsimmons, the commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service, told reporters.
"But it also presents some real challenges when it comes to implementing tactical and strategic back-burns and other techniques to try and bring these fires under control."
Police yesterday confirmed the death of a 71-year-old man on the south coast of New South Wales (NSW) state who was reported missing last Tuesday, bringing the national death toll to 25.
More than eight million ha of land has been destroyed in the current fire season, nearly the size of Austria. About 2,000 homes were also razed.
More than 135 bush fires were still burning across NSW, including almost 70 that were uncontained.
For a second day, Australia's capital, Canberra, had the worst air quality of any major city in the world yesterday morning.
The Department of Home Affairs, responsible for coordinating the country's response to disasters, told all non-critical staff to stay home because of the bad air quality.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said there was no room for complacency. She said: "We're in uncharted territory. We can't pretend that this is something that we have experienced before. It's not."
Everywhere, millions of beleaguered residents struggled to come to grips with a catastrophe that has taken place on a near-continental scale.
Ms Noreen Ralston-Birchaw, 75, lost her home in the south-east coastal town of Mogo on New Year's Eve and said she was unsure of what to do now.
"At this very moment, I don't want to go back and see my house lying burnt on the ground," she said. "I don't want to rebuild there."
While bush fires are common in Australia's dry summers, climate change has pushed up land and sea temperatures and led to increasing numbers of extremely hot days and severe fire seasons.
Scientists say there is no doubt man-made global warming has played a major role in feeding the fires, along with factors such as very dry brush and trees and strong winds.
Mr Morrison, chided for past remarks minimising the need to address climate change, has deflected criticism while trying to change his tone.
ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE