Rain brings relief to Australian firefighters

Rain brings relief to Australian firefighters
In a picture taken on January 3, 2015, a bushfire burns through scrub near Gumeracha in the Adelaide Hills.

SYDNEY - Australian authorities said Wednesday they had almost fully contained a destructive bushfire in the country's south, as rain in fire-hit areas brought welcome relief for firefighters.

South Australia's fire service said they had 95 per cent of a huge blaze in the Adelaide Hills under control, as a scorching afternoon with temperatures rising to 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) was cooled down by rain.

"The fire ground is 95 per cent contained," said Country Fire Service chief Greg Nettleton.

"We've narrowed it down to two locations where we've got hot spots. This rain won't calm the hot spots, it requires people to do work on them."

Nettleton said he was more worried about new fires that started after lightning struck parts of South Australia in the afternoon, with strong wind gusts of up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) per hour.

"I'm more concerned about the wind gusts over new fires that have just been initiated by lightning because that will cause those fires to spread," he said.

The improved conditions meant a major emergency declared on Saturday would be cancelled, with the operation moving into the recovery phase, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will visit the fire ground on Thursday.

Up to 800 firefighters had been working over the past six days to get the blaze under control. The bushfire has razed 12,500 hectares (30,888 acres) of scrub and farmland in the Mount Lofty Ranges east of Adelaide over the weekend.

The number of homes damaged of destroyed since Friday when the blaze broke out was on Wednesday revised down to 32 from 38 as fuller assessments were made.

NASA satellite imagery of Adelaide Hills on Saturday had shown large plumes of smoke rising from the fire-affected areas, with officials saying the bushfire conditions were the worst in the area since the 1983 Ash Wednesday blazes.

The 1983 disaster killed more than 70 people in South Australia and Victoria and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.

The bushfire has already seen 350 insurance claims totalling more than Aus$13 million (S$14.1 million), the Insurance Council of Australia said.

In neighbouring Victoria state temperatures also soared, but warnings of out-of-control bushfires threatening rural homes were later downgraded.

Bushfires are common in Australia's hot summer months. "Black Saturday", the worst firestorm in recent years, devastated southern Victoria in 2009, razing thousands of homes and killing 173 people.

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