Australian crews race to contain blazes as damage bill soars

SYDNEY (AP) - Australia's exhausted firefighters are taking advantage of cooler weather to shore up defenses against the deadly wildfires that have ripped across the country.

In this Monday, Dec. 30, 2019, aerial photo, wildfires rage under plumes of smoke in Bairnsdale, Australia. Thousands of tourists fled Australia's wildfire-ravaged eastern coast Thursday ahead of worsening conditions as the military started to evacuate people trapped on the shore further south. (Glen Morey via AP)

Officials warn the blazes are likely to flare again within days when scorching temperatures are expected to return.

The first hints of the financial toll from the disaster are emerging, with the Insurance Council of Australia saying the estimated damage bill had reached 700 million Australian dollars ($485 million).

That estimate comes one day after the government announced it was committing an extra 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.4 billion) toward the recovery effort.

Australia’s government says it is willing to pay “whatever it takes” to help communities recover from devastating wildfires.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the government is committing an extra 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.4 billion) toward the recovery effort in addition to the sums already committed.

Rain and cooler temperatures brought some measure of relief to communities battling wildfires.

Morrison said the military was attempting to get food, fuel and water to burned-out communities, and engineers were working to reopen roads and resupply evacuation centers.

And teams had arrived at an island wildlife refuge to help euthanize injured livestock and wild animals.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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