Volunteer crews have been on the frontline of some of the most ferocious bushfires to hit Australia in years.
The Australian government announced on Sunday it would compensate volunteer firefighters in the state of New South Wales (NSW), as authorities braced for conditions to deteriorate again with more high temperatures forecast.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said volunteer firefighters will receive 300 Australian dollars ($209) a day, up to 6,000 Australian dollars ($4,190) in total, if called out to battle blazes for more than 10 days.
“The early and prolonged nature of this fire season has made a call beyond what is typically made on our volunteer firefighters,” Morrison said.
The prime minister has been under pressure to tackle the fire crisis since taking a family holiday to Hawaii while parts of the country burned.
He cut short the trip after two firefighters were killed.
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The opposition Labor party has been pressing the government to consider widespread compensation for the volunteers who usually have to negotiate time off directly with their employer.
Morrison said the compensation was necessary so that the New South Wales fires commissioner was able to continue to call out the volunteer force.
The programme is expected to cost 50 million Australian dollars ($34.9 million), but will be uncapped with the first AU$10 million ($6.9 million) being made available next month.
Morrison said it would be offered to other states and territories requesting help.
Fires have also ravaged parts of Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia.
New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, has endured the worst of the fires, which have killed nine people nationwide and razed more than 1,000 homes in the past few months.
High temperatures in the country’s east are expected until the new year. Sydney’s western suburbs were set to hit 41 degrees Celsius (106 Fahrenheit) on Sunday before peaking at 44 C (111 F) on Tuesday.
The fire danger in Sydney and northern New South Wales is currently at very high.
New South Wales Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said 85 fires were still burning across the state with almost half of them not contained.
“We’ve got some deteriorating weather conditions over the coming days, particularly Monday and worsening through to Tuesday,” he said.
An emergency warning was issued Sunday for Victoria’s east as conditions worsen with a total fire ban in place across the state. Melbourne, the state’s capital, was set to reach 43 C (109 F) on Monday with strong winds also forecast.
Meanwhile, Morrison has called for Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks to go ahead despite the wildfires, saying it would represent “Australia’s resiliency.“
“The world looks at Sydney every single year and they look at our vibrancy, they look at our passion, they look at our success,” he said. “In the midst of the challenges that we face, subject to the safety considerations, I can think of no better time to express to the world just how optimistic and positive we are as a country.”
The City of Sydney Council gave the green light although fire authorities warned that the spectacle could be cancelled if catastrophic conditions were declared.