Australian firefighters to battle bushfire in heatwave

January 7, 2015 – Australian authorities said earlier today they had largely contained a destructive bushfire in the country’s south but would remain vigilant against potential flare-ups with a heatwave set to send temperatures soaring.

South Australia’s fire service said they had 85 percent of a huge blaze in the Adelaide Hills in hand with temperatures expected to rise to 38 degrees Celsius.

“While we are saying 85 percent contained, there is a risk still that fire may re-erupt in some of the areas where it hasn’t yet burnt,” the fire service’s incident controller Scott Turner said.

About 500 firefighters are tackling the bushfire, which razed 12,500 hectares of scrub and farmland in the Mount Lofty Ranges, east of Adelaide, over the weekend. 167 buildings, including 38 homes, have been damaged or destroyed since Friday when the blaze broke out.

Turner said firefighters had mobilised additional resources – including aircraft dumping fire retardant – ahead of the expected rise in temperatures and changing wind conditions.

“The fire conditions today – although are high to severe – are not the same as Friday,” Turner said. “We have in excess of 14 aircraft available to us should we see severe weather conditions this afternoon. We will move every asset we have available to protect our communities and to stop further fire spread.”

Firefighters are hopeful that if they are able to keep the fire within containment lines Wednesday, easing weather conditions on Thursday will help them get it fully under control. The bushfire has already seen 350 insurance claims of more than A$13 million (US$10.5 million), the Insurance Council of Australia said.

In neighbouring Victoria state, temperatures are also expected to soar, with residents in fire-affected areas told to remain alert even as bushfire warnings were downgraded.

Bushfires are common in Australia’s hot summer months. “Black Saturday”, the worst firestorm in recent years, devastated southern Victoria in 2009, razing thousands of homes and killing 173 people.