PERFECT FIRESTORM

AFTER touring the scorched earth of Coonabarabran yesterday Prime Minister Julia Gillard described the area as a "moonscape", with homes, farmland and national park areas bare and blackened.

The Wambelong fire has been described as one of the state's worst in a decade, so it was appropriate the Prime Minister was on hand to announce Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payments, with $1000 to go to adults and $400 to children directly affected by the bushfires.

Ms Gillard paid tribute to the "incredible" efforts of firefighters, police, council workers, volunteers and community members in the face of the inferno which has so far claimed no lives, but destroyed 49 houses along with an even greater number of sheds, livestock and machinery.

"With a fire that has been rightly described as 'the perfect storm of fires', for us to be counting the cost in property damage is bad enough but we are not counting the cost in lives and that is a tremendous achievement," she said.

NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons described the efforts of firefighters as "unrelenting" with yesterday's efforts focused on consolidating containment lines before the return of deteriorating weather today.

The north-east edge and south-west corner of the Wambelong fire were the focus of the RFS as high temperatures and winds of 30km/h are predicted to return. 

Ms Gillard praised the strong community spirit of Coonabarabran which has so far raised $59,000 through the Warrumbungle Shire Mayor’s Bushfire Appeal.

“From weary firefighters who are still out there to Tilly a five year-old girl who has been handing out iceblocks when they come in for some relief,” she said.

Ms Gillard  visited evacuees, RFS firefighter Bob Fenwick and his wife Jeanette, who had lost their home in the blaze.

“He is a man who knows a fair bit about fire and said of the fire which destroyed their home that there was just nothing stopping it, that it was burning grass that had water running across it,” she said.

Ms Gillard also met staff of the Siding Springs Observatory who had  fled the fire.

“They wanted to tell me how they could report to me as Prime Minister that they protected a federal government asset, that they had protected the telescopes and the principal observatory,” she said. 

“I am glad I had they opportunity to say to them the principal federal government asset isn’t the building, it is them, and they are all safe having shown such bravery.”

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