Australian PM defends response to wildfires as cooler weather brings respite

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison right visits the wildfire-ravaged town of Cobargo

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison defends bushfire crisis response

"It's not something we have experienced before", NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

"Today is about ensuring we deal with the urgent crisis that is existing across fire grounds in four states in particular, to ensure we're giving everything that is needed on ground without being asked", Morrison said at a press conference. "Please sustain your vigilance, maintain the focus, yes, we can take a bit of a reprieve in the weather conditions but what we have to do is remain focused", he said. "I have no doubt they will have a long list of recovery tasks that (the states) will be performing ... rebuilding bridges, roads and other critical infrastructure and we will work hand in glove".

For the first time in Australia's history, 3,000 army, navy and air force reservists have been called up to join the battle against the fires.

"I was disappointed and frustrated in the middle of one of our worst days with massive dislocation and movement of people", Shane Fitzsimmons said. Last week, he was heckled when he visited a township in New South Wales where houses have been destroyed and one of them belonged to one of the three volunteer firefighters who have died in the crisis.

In the state of New South Wales alone, nearly 150 fires continued to burn, many out of control, with light rains offering little relief and blazes again touching the suburbs of Sydney.

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Dozens of communities, from small towns on the south coast of New South Wales, to alpine villages in the neighboring Victoria state, were razed as fires grew so large they generated dry thunderstorms.

"At this stage, we can't account for their safety". "I want to start by extending my honest condolences and sympathies once again to all of those Australians and families who've lost loved ones during the course of these devastating bushfires".

A resident watches the smoke come across as high winds push smoke and ash from the Currowan Fire towards Nowra, New South Wales, Australia January 4, 2020.

The fires, which have been raging since September, have killed at least 24 people, burned about five million hectares (12.35 million acres) of land and been catastrophic for the country's wildlife.

Queen Elizabeth on Sunday said she was "deeply saddened" by the fires, and thanked the emergency services "who put their own lives in danger" to help communities.

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Australian comedian Celeste Barber's mammoth charity appeal for the NSW Rural Fire Service topped $25 million on Sunday, little more than 48 hours since it began.

On Sunday, cooler temperatures and lighter winds brought some relief to threatened communities, a day after thousands were forced to flee as flames reached the suburban fringes of Sydney. A state of emergency is in place across NSW as firefighters battle 150 fires, 64 of which are uncontained.

"We still have those dynamic and unsafe conditions - the low humidity, the strong winds and, what underpins that, the state is tinder dry", Victoria Emergency Services Commissioner Andrew Crisp said.

The latest fatalities were in Kangaroo Island - a tourist haven southwest of Adelaide - when two people were trapped in a vehicle overrun by flames on Friday.

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