News National Amid growing death toll and a harrowing return home for victims, criminals look to profit

Amid growing death toll and a harrowing return home for victims, criminals look to profit

A burnt-out tractor is pictured in the Wingello State Forest on January 06, 2020 in Wingello, Australia. Photo: Getty
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Police have confirmed another person has died in the NSW bushfires, bringing the total number of deaths in the state so far this fire season to 19.

NSW Police said the 71-year-old man was reported missing from Nerrigundah and had last been seen moving equipment from his property on New Year’s Eve.

He was confirmed dead on Monday night after his body was discovered between a property and a car, which had both been destroyed in the blaze.

A second person remains missing from Bombala near the Victorian border. It follows relief for worried families on Monday when four Victorians who had previously been unaccounted for were found safe and well.

Meanwhile, while devastated fire victims have used easing conditions to make a harrowing return to inspect the ashes of their homes, there are fears criminals are looking to capitalise on the nation’s grief.

Three people have been charged in NSW over alleged plans to loot properties. Authorities are also warning about scams taking advantage of Australians’ generosity, with fears criminals have even set up fake Facebook profiles.

Officers from South Coast Police District allege they found a a 17-year-old boy with a screwdriver and bandanna when they arrested him at Bangalee.

About 10.30am Monday, police were patrolling in North Nowra when they allegedly found a 30-year-old man – who had been wanted on other offences – in possession of a knife, a jemmy bar, torches, and plyers.

Earlier, officers from the Criminal Groups Squad’s Strike Force Raptor spoke to a 33-year-old man at Moruya after receiving information he was driving around the area and acting suspiciously.

He allegedly blew 0.257 in a breath test. Police believe he was the same person reported trespassing at a home in Wamban.

All three alleged offenders have been charged and bailed.

The remains of vehicles are seen from a bushfire in the Southern Highlands town of Wingello, 160km south west of Sydney.

Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott described looters as “the lowest of the low”.

It means that police resources are having to be directed to deal with suspicious activity, while there is still desperate need for as many boots on the ground as possible to help with recovery, community support and preparations for expected worsening conditions.

In NSW and Victoria, the light rain providing relief for firefighters should continue on Tuesday, while on fire-devastated Kangaroo Island authorities were battling multiple flare ups throughout the morning.

The smoke layer that covered Victoria from the east all the way to Melbourne and Geelong is hoped to ease as southerly winds come through on Tuesday.

Clearer air conditions would help evacuate people still stranded in Mallacoota, where smoky conditions delayed Monday plans to airlift another 300 out of the coastal town.

In the smoke-choked nation’s capital, about 100,000 bushfire masks are being sent to help vulnerable people struggling to breath in the ACT.

Melbourne’s air quality is forecast to be very poor as smoke moves into the city from Tasmania and around Victoria.

Fires have been downgraded but with temperatures expected to rise again by Friday, authorities are racing the clock to put in fire breaks and prepare for flare ups.

Authorities and armies of volunteers are now focusing on getting towns up and running so locals can access food and supplies.

“It’s not widespread amazing falls, but there is some falling from the sky,” duty forecaster Gabrielle Woodhouse told AAP of the rain in NSW.

“We are looking at a few more showers and possible thunderstorms tomorrow and into Wednesday.”

NSW Transport Minister and Bega MP Andrew Constance has called on state and federal government to get support staff into fire-ravaged areas as soon as possible as communities grapple with “unimaginable grief”.

Save The Children says it will roll out more of its child-friendly spaces to allow kids up to 12 to start to process their experiences with trained early childhood specialists – while offering their parents and caregivers time to speak to insurance providers and the like.

Bermagui’s main supermarket opened late on Monday and is expected to be fully stocked by Tuesday morning, as residents across Bega Valley and Eurobodalla shires returned home.

“Do not sift through fire-damaged material until it has been inspected and verified to be asbestos-free,” the Eurobodalla council warned its community.

But some from smaller villages, such as Wonboyn and the Deua River area, remain stuck and unable to go back.

Others are preparing to stay and defend when fire conditions escalate again on Friday. Temperatures could again surpass 40C.

Bundanoon couple Dianne Ross and Michael Hutchinson said evacuating on Saturday helped them become determined to make a plan to defend their home.

“We’re not going to play ‘we’re going to defend until the place is on fire’ but we’ll defend it as much as possible,” Mr Hutchinson told AAP.

In Victoria, 14 active fires continued burning statewide.

The number of active fires reported by Emergency Victoria was reduced from 31 as small fires merged in East Gippsland and the north east.

The disastrous blazes have already burnt more than 1.2 million hectares across Victoria, killing two and injuring millions of wildlife.

Victoria Police are investigating whether a man killed in a car crash on the Goulburn Valley Highway northeast of Melbourne last Friday will be counted as the third bushfires fatality.

As of late evening on Monday, 13 “watch and act” warnings remained in place with crews working to make roads safe prior to reopening.

Emergency Victoria said there were 4,900kms of road to assess and and deal with trees that a prone to falling, as well as other damage.

Conditions have eased in the fire areas, but the forecast is for spike days on Thursday-Friday, when temperatures will rise up to the high 30s.

“There’s been a little bit of rain, but it’s not making an impact on the fire. We know it won’t, it will take a significant amount of rain over a significant amount of time to occur,” Emergency Services Commissioner Andrew Crisp said on Monday.

-with AAP