Bushfires set to destroy up to 5 million hectares

By Jessica Tyson

The size of the bushfires in Australia is expected to reach five million hectares, officials announced today.

In a press conference, Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said so far 4.9 million hectares have been "burnt out".

“Given the activity we've got still, we can expect that number to grow. Unfortunately, I don't think it will be too long before we're up to five million hectares.”

Firefighters in Australia are under added pressure today, with the risk of a mega blaze forming from three infernos burning near the border of New South Wales and Victoria.   

It leaves firefighters limited time to tackle the fire-front before temperatures rise on Thursday.

“We can expect to see a combination of the hot conditions and westerly winds coming out of the centre of the state, resulting in probably severe fire danger ratings along the back end of the ranges and in parts of the central west," Fitzsimmons said.

Three infernos burning near the border of New South Wales and Victoria. 

At least 20 people have died from the fires and two people remain unaccounted for today.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, “In remote parts of the far south New South Wales, there are two people unaccounted for and we hope that ends in good news but at this stage we can’t account for their safety.”

Meanwhile, an important focus this week is recovery. Fitzsimmons says today an extra 60 personnel have joined to help.

“That will ramp-up in the hundreds from the Commonwealth in the coming days and weeks, along with their machinery and other specialist equipment and gear.”

To support the Australian Defence Force efforts in tackling the fires, the Royal New Zealand Air Force is sending three NH90 helicopters and crew. The New Zealand Army is also sending two combat engineer sections, as well as a command element.

They will deploy on a number of flights from Monday to Wednesday.

A group of 22 fire service personnel will also leave New Zealand for New South Wales on Wednesday, including 20 firefighters, one strike team leader and one liaison officer. They will be in Australia for 11 days, returning on January 20.