NSW death toll climbs to 20, Aussies and world dig deep
A man who died trying to save his home on the south coast has become the 20th victim of the state's devastating summer-long bushfires.
And there are grave fears another victim could be added with a person missing at Bombala near the Victorian border.
A 71-year-old man, last seen on New Year's Eve, was found dead yesterday when police search crews finally reached Nerrigundah, south of Batemans Bay, which had been cut off by fire for days.
Police said the man's property, where he had been moving machinery, had been destroyed by the Badja Forest Road Fire.
His body was found between a house and car, both burned out.
Authorities revealed 4.9 million hectares of bush had now been burnt, 1466 houses destroyed and millions of animals killed this fire season.
The Department of Primary Industry estimates almost 4000 livestock animals have been euthanised or died in fires across the state.
Officials say they are providing farmers with emergency fodder and water, animal care, livestock assessment, and stock euthanasia and burial.
Frustrated police announced firebugs had been fuelling the fire crisis at a staggering rate - 24 people were charged in just the last two months with deliberately lighting fires.
More than 180 people in total have been charged with bushfire-related offences since November 8, including 53 people who failed to comply with fire bans. There were 40 juveniles among those arrested.
In a rare burst of good news, parts of the south coast devastated by fire in recent weeks were last night getting rain.
In Eden where hundreds of people had evacuated on Sunday, rains were forecast again today and on Thursday.
It is hoped to give firefighters a chance to contain the 138,000ha border fire which spread from Victoria. North of Eden, rain was also predicted today up the fire-ravaged coast including at Narooma, Lake Conjola and Ulladulla.
But Rural Fire Service chief Shane Fitzsimmons said the weather was a reprieve, not a resolution to the fire crisis.
"More benign weather conditions has a benefit on fire behaviour, so the fire behaviour is a lot less given the current conditions," he said. "We still have a couple of thousand people - just under 2500 people - deployed across the fire grounds … I don't think it will be too long before we are up over five million hectares of largely forestry country burning along the Great Dividing Range from the Queensland border to the Victorian border."
Detectives believe a grass fire that broke out at Sydney Olympic Park about 11.30pm Sunday may have been deliberately lit after fireworks were later found at the scene. In another incident in Cooma, a 63-year-old man was charged after lighting a fire pit.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
DECADES BEFORE FULL WILDLIFE TOLL KNOWN
It could be "months, years or decades" before the terrible toll of the bushfires on Australia's wildlife is fully known.
Deborah Tabart, chairman of the Australian Koala Foundation, said the fires had been "catastrophic" for koalas' dwindling numbers.
"Koalas were in serious trouble before these fires but now they are worse off from the bushfires," she said. "It will be months, years or decades before we find out the impact on the koalas population in Australia."
Zoos Victoria reproductive biologist Marissa Parrott said koalas, possums and gliders were "the silent victims" of the bushfires.
"More mobile animals can escape the fires. Birds can fly away, kangaroos can jump away but koalas live up in the trees and they don't move that quickly," she said.
"Others will get horrific injuries and burns. Many of those will be too badly burnt to survive."
After the fires are put out, a lack of food and habitat will present serious problems.
"For all of these animals, they will be losing their homes and their food," Dr Parrott said.
"Koalas are sensitive as they only eat certain types of eucalypt. You can't just take a koala from one location and put it in as they can't eat that food. It is a really long road to recovery."
Other animals face extinction in the bushfires.
"Koalas are iconic and beautiful but there are many more animals threatened by the fires," Dr Parrott said.
They include the mountain pigmy possum, the corroboree frog and the brush-tailed rock wallaby.
Veterinarian Andrew Hill treated several koalas caught in the fires.
"They do not know what is going on. They become scared," he said. "They are in a tremendous amount of pain when they get burnt.
"They are fragile little creatures.
"Another issue is where do we put them back after they heal?
"It is heartbreaking."