Australia turns from defence to offence for first time in weeks in bushfire battle

A firefighter keeps an eye on a controlled fire as they work at building a containment line at a wildfire near Bodalla, Australia Credit: Rick Rycroft/AP

Crews battling bushfires in Australia have said that they have been able to turn from defence to offence for the first time in weeks thanks to a break in the weather.

On Saturday, a firefighter was killed while battling the wildfires, taking the death toll to 27 people since September.

Bill Slade, 60, was killed by a falling tree near Omeo in the south-eastern state of Victoria, with the father-of-two commended for 40 years of service with Forest Fire Management Victoria.

The fires have destroyed more than 2,000 homes and have focused many Australians on how the nation adapts to climate change.

The blazes have burning for months and are expected to continue for some time. Credit: PA Graphics

The weather is expected to remain settled for the next week, although any deterioration in conditions after that could see the wildfires flare up again.

Dale McLean, who is helping manage the response to a fire near the town of Bodalla in New South Wales, was part of team that was bulldozing down small trees and burning scrub ahead of the fire’s projected path to try to stop it from reaching a major road by starving it of fuel.

“This fire took a major run about seven or eight days ago, and with the weather changing now, the weather settling down, the fire has settled down,” he said.

“The fire behaviour has changed.

"So we’re able to get in front of the fire now, get on the offensive.”

Firefighter Mick Stain eats a moth larvae called a witchetty grub as he helps patrol a controlled fire Credit: Rick Rycroft/AP

While battling the blazes, volunteer firefighting veteran Mick Stain found some moth larvae, or “witchetty grubs”, and turned them into what is known in Australia as bush tucker by roasting them directly on the fire’s burning coals.

“Bit creamy and nutty, but they’re all right,” Mr Stain said.

“They’re not spew-worthy, so they’re pretty good.”

It is thought the bushfires in Australia have killed more than one billion animals, with fears some species may have been wiped out in certain regions.

In an effort to help animals caught up in fire-affected areas, vegetables have been dropped over New South Wales.

Thousands of kilograms of food including sweet potato and carrots were flung from the air for wallaby colonies, according to Minister for Energy and Environment for New South Wales Matt Kean.

In a tweet the minister said:

“#NPWS staff today dropped thousands of kgs of food (Mostly sweet potato and carrots) for our Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby colonies across NSW".

He also shared an image of one of the fire-affected critters munching on a carrot, with the caption “One happy customer”.

A wallaby got its hands on a carrot dropped from the air. Credit: @Matt_KeanMP/Twitter

The crisis has brought accusations that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government needs to take more action to counter climate change, which experts say has worsened the blazes.

Thousands of protesters rallied late on Friday in Sydney and Melbourne, calling for Mr Morrison to be sacked and for Australia to take tougher action on global warming.

The Prime Minister said on Sunday that his government was building resilience to the fire danger posed by climate change.

A helicopter prepares to drop water on a wildfire that burns in the hills near Cobargo, Australia Credit: Rick Rycroft/AP

He said the government was developing a national disaster risk reduction framework within the Department of Home Affairs that will deal with wildfires, cyclones, floods and drought.

“This is a longer-term risk framework model which deals with one of the big issues in response to the climate changing,” Mr Morrison said.

He said his government accepted that climate change was leading to longer, hotter and drier summers, despite junior government politician George Christensen posting on social media over the weekend that the cause of the latest fires was arson rather than man-made climate change.

A firefighter refused to shake hands with the Prime Minister on a visit to Cobargo in New South Wales. Credit: AuBC/AP