PM flies in to fire disaster zone to meet with victims

FOR a few frightening hours, it looked as though flames were going to breach containment lines protecting Coonabarabran on Thursday but by late morning, firefighters reassured residents their town would be safe for another day.

It was a different story for families living on the outskirts of town and near the Warrumbungle National Park where 49 properties have now been confirmed lost.

Already, farmers have confirmed more than 5000 stock are dead and 110 sheds destroyed.

Heavy smoke is preventing firefighters from accessing remote areas and NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the damage bill was expected to rise significantly in coming days.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard flew into the heart of the disaster zone on Thursday to oversee fire co-ordination and meet with those who had lost everything.

She bought with her news that families in the Coonamble, Gilgandra and Warrumbungle regions who had been impacted by the fires were eligible for immediate disaster relief payments.

Families can claim payments of $1000 for each adult and $400 for each child.

Tax deductible status will be given to all relief funds established to help families in the Coonabarabran region.

An evacuation centre at the Coonabarabran Bowling Club will remain open 24 hours as conditions deteriorate from Friday.

The 45,000ha bush fire in the Warrumbungle National Park west of Coonabarabran remains the biggest threat.

A base camp has been set up at the Coonabarabran Racecourse for about 300 firefighters who have travelled from other areas to help. Air conditioned accommodation has been provided for the volunteers and last night alone, the community had supplied 300 steaks, 250 lamb chops, 800 sausages, 300 loaves of bread and 2700 eggs to the camp kitchen.

A total fire ban will be in place across most of the state on Friday as temperatures in some regions rise above 40degrees.

A map of affected areas is available at rfs.nsw.gov.au.

Disaster relief claims can be lodged at humanservices.gov.au/disaster of by calling 180 22 66.

More information on assistance can be found at disasterassist.gov.au.

Topics:  coonabarabran, disaster, fire, julia gillard



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