Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the armed forces may be called out to help during NSW’s unprecedented bushfire emergency as he warned the death toll was likely to rise.
Mr Morrison on Saturday said Australian Defence Force reservists could be deployed “if necessary” as emergency services battle some 80 blazes from the mid-north coast to the Queensland border.
Two people are confirmed dead near Glen Innes while several people are missing in the New England region.
“These fires have already claimed two lives and we’re expecting worse news as the day unfolds,” Mr Morrison told reporters at Kirribilli House.
“There have been hundreds of properties that have been destroyed and as we get access to further areas that have been cut off we’re expecting worse news again.”
Mr Morrison said ADF reservists could potentially work on firebreaks as well as help with accommodation and catering logistics, for example.
But he stressed they would not actively help with fighting fires on the ground.
The ADF is providing airlift support with Lockheed C-130s out of Adelaide and the RAAF fleet of Boeing Business Jets.
Conditions are expected to worsen across NSW in the coming days with temperatures in the mid to high 30s forecast on Tuesday.
“These fires will burn for some time. They will hopefully be able to be brought back to a more manageable level (but) the fires will continue to present a risk for some weeks to come.”
Emergency Management Australia on Saturday convened a meeting of state and territory fire and emergency service chiefs.
The PM said disaster recovery would start flowing in the form of $1000 payments to individual adults and $400 for children.
Asked whether this year’s unprecedented fires were linked to climate change, the Liberal leader replied: “My only thoughts today are with those who have lost their lives and their families, the firefighters who are fighting the fires (and) the response effort that has to be delivered.”
Glen Innes mayor says community ‘in shock’
Mayor Carol Sparks was among residents evacuated as the Kangawalla fire east of Glen Innes in the Northern Tablelands burned on Friday, leaving her community devastated.
Mayor Sparks has been told her home was likely destroyed with neighbours saying they heard explosions coming from the property in Wytaliba.
“(But) I’m not going to believe it until I see it,” she told AAP on Saturday morning as she returned to the fire-ravaged area.
Her thoughts were first and foremost with the families of those who had died and others who are missing, Ms Sparks said.
“The worst thing is that we have lost family and friends and we are all very upset.”
The mayor said the small community of about 100 people is in shock with five people having suffered burn injuries.
Some people remained as the firestorm bore down, and managed to save their properties, Ms Sparks said.
“Everybody knows each other and there are people missing that we haven’t able to contact. It’s very worrying.”
It is thought some 20 properties have been destroyed including the local primary school.
Ms Sparks has no doubt global warming is increasing the number of fires and their intensity.
“We are so impacted by drought and the lack of rain,” she said.
“It’s climate change, there’s no doubt about it. The whole of the country is going to be affected. We need to take a serious look at our future.”