News National Bushfire damage bill hits $700m as firefighters prepare for more bad weather
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Bushfire damage bill hits $700m as firefighters prepare for more bad weather

Firefighters take advantage of milder conditions to strengthen containment lines. Photo: AAP
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Insurers have promised to act quickly on claims made by bushfire victims, with companies told to prioritise local tradespeople when they start paying out for rebuilds.

Insurance claims from Australia’s worsening bushfire crisis have climbed to $700 million, with more than 8500 claims made since September.

About 20 per cent of the claims have been assessed, with half of those already settled.

Contents claims have been about $50,000, with average house claims about $300,000.

NSW has lost 1588 homes while Victoria’s property losses have been calculated at 200 but are expected to rise.

Bushfires claimed 161 homes in South Australia – including 56 on Kangaroo Island – and 48 in Queensland.

Earlier

Authorities in NSW and Victoria intend to take advantage of the cooler weather by expanding containment lines, with crews attempting tactical and strategic backburns to contain fires and bring some fires under control.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Dean Sgarbossa said cool temperatures would persist until Friday, when heat would rebuild, initially in South Australia before moving into Victoria and NSW.

Temperatures on the coast are expected to hit the mid-to-high 30s while the mercury will soar into the mid-40s in inland areas including Griffith, Hay and Broken Hill.

Mr Sgarbossa said conditions would be similar to Saturday, when at least 60 properties were destroyed in NSW.

“We’ll see strengthening north to north-westerly winds ahead of another quite squally south-westerly cool change,” he said.

“There’s the chance of high-based and maybe dry thunderstorms, which could ignite new fires via lightning but also produce damaging wind gusts which could lead to erratic fire conditions on the ground.”

Fires could again threaten towns that already burnt at the weekend. Photo: Twitter/Kelly_J_Small

Temperature records were smashed on Saturday when the mercury rose to 48.9 degrees Celsius in Penrith — the hottest it’s been in the Sydney Basin since 1939.

Mr Sgarbossa said conditions had been “exceptionally dry and warm” over spring and into December, which had led to the enhanced fire danger, but some rain was on the way.

“We are starting to see moisture build off north-west Western Australia … and that will potentially drive further rainfall and cloud bands over the next month or so.”

Around 2,500 personnel will be on fire grounds across NSW, as they attempt to rein in the fires.

But these efforts could be hindered by the wet conditions and rain, which is not falling in great enough quantities to extinguish the blazes.

Bushfire behaviour expert Thomas Duff told the ABC a small amount of rain could be a nuisance because it results in patchy fires within the control lines.

“Having unburnt areas within your control lines is actually quite dangerous because they can be a source of new fires or spot fires when things dry out again,” Dr Duff said.

With the weather heating up again on Friday, this is the real fear.

In Victoria, a couple of millimetres of rain is due to fall over southern parts of East Gippsland in the coming days before the weather heats up again from Thursday, the weather bureau says.

Mr Crisp said the rain had slowed the burn but the smoke haze made it hard for the 62 aircraft to assess the fires.

“We are working very, very hard (during) this benign weather and fire conditions,” he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“If these fires had creeped under more benign conditions, that’s going to make things a whole lot more difficult on Thursday and Friday.

“It’s definitely worked in our favour but … it’s about still remaining vigilant.”

-with AAP