By Lidia Kelly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A recent respite for Australian firefighters that brought rains and cooler weather is set to end, meteorologists warned on Monday, with hot conditions forecast for later this week raising a risk that blazes may start spreading again.
Australia experiences regular bushfires over summer, but this season’s fires began early and have claimed 33 lives in the past four months, killed millions of animals and charred an area nearly the size of Greece.
More than a week of solid rain in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, the three states most affected by the fires, has more than halved the number of blazes, but above average temperatures were set to return by the weekend.
“Unfortunately, the reprieve may be short-lived with a blast of heat likely late this week in some areas,” the New South Wales Bureau of Meteorology said on Twitter.
As of Monday, 59 bush and grass fires were burning throughout New South Wales state, 28 of which were yet not contained.
“More than 1,300 firefighters are using more favorable conditions to slow the spread of fires and strengthen containment lines, ahead of forecast increasing temperatures later in the week,” the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said on Twitter.
Temperatures in Melbourne, where the Australian Open tennis tournament is in its second week, are forecast to reach 41 Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) on Friday.
Following are some highlights of what is happening in the bushfire crisis:
* Rainfall continued in Queensland, with some areas receiving nearly a sixth of their annual average in a 24-hour period on Monday.
* Australian authorities are yet to determine what caused a plane that carried three U.S. firefighters to crash last week in New South Wales.
* Wayne Coulson, chief operating officer of Coulson Group, the Canadian firm that owned the plane and employed its crew, said on Monday he flew to the crash site. “To see our aircraft on the ground, knowing we have had such loss of life was devastating,” he said.
* One in two Australians have donated money to support bushfire relief efforts, a new survey showed over the weekend.
* Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday that he will move a motion of condolence at parliament’s first sitting in early February.
* A bushfire near Canberra, the country’s capital, was at “watch and act” level with fire services saying that no properties were under threat, but warning also the situation may deteriorate.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Richard Pullin)