Australia firefighters start to gain upper hand

Australia firefighters start to gain upper hand
Firefighters attempt to extinguish a bushfire at the Windsor Downs Nature Reserve, near Sydney.

SYDNEY - Firefighters in Australia took advantage of lighter winds Friday to get on top of a nine-day bushfire emergency as officials said the military could be liable for compensation after starting one of the worst blazes.

Thousands of largely volunteer firefighters have been battling infernos that have destroyed more than 200 homes, cost two lives, and razed more than 124,000 hectares (306,000 acres) across New South Wales state since last week.

The damage bill so far is estimated at A$138 million (US$162 million), according to the Insurance Council of Australia, with more than 1,000 claims made and many more expected over the coming days.

Operations are now being wound back although 57 bush and grass fires continue to burn with 23 yet to be contained. No property was currently under threat and none of the fires was considered an "emergency", the highest danger level.

"Cooler temperatures today, however residents should remain vigilant," the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said on its Facebook page.

A fire service spokeswoman added that crews were taking advantage of a drop in winds and temperatures to strengthen containment lines and continue aggressive backburning - a tactic aimed at creating firebreaks to control the path of blazes.

"Overnight it has been backburning on most of those fires and patrolling the containment lines, as well as mopping up," she said, with more than 800 firefighters and 72 aircraft still deployed.

"With the cooler weather we want to strengthen those containment lines."

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