Daily News Roundup

January 7, 2020

TUESDAY, January 7

The NSW Rural Fire Service has confirmed 1,588 homes had been destroyed in the state so far this fire season with a further 653 damaged.

But these numbers are expected to climb with dangerous bushfire weather set to return on Friday when temperatures are expected to reach the mid-30s on the coast and low-to-mid-40s inland

Thunderstorms could again produce dry lightning and erratic wind conditions.

In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews said at least 200 homes had been destroyed.

Figures in both states are expected to rise as authorities continue to survey firegrounds.

By comparison Victoria’s “Black Saturday” fires in 2009 claimed more than 2,000 homes in February and the “Ash Wednesday” fires in 1983 destroyed about 2,400 homes in Victoria and South Australia, also in February.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) estimated the damage bill from bushfires across the country since September was $700 million.

There have been 8,985 insurance claims for fire-related damage since then, however that figure is expected to rise significantly.

Overnight rain was a welcome sight across firegrounds, and the NSW RFS said it would take advantage of the favourable conditions to strengthen containment lines before the mercury rises back into the 40s in some parts of the state.

Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecaster Dean Sgarbossa said cool temperatures would persist until Friday, when heat would rebuild, initially in South Australia before moving into Victoria and NSW.

Mr Sgarbossa said conditions would be similar to last Saturday, when at least 60 properties were destroyed in NSW.

In Victoria, rain has stalled the progress of fires which has burned through more than 1.2 million hectares in the state’s east and north-east.

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) state response controller Gavin Freeman told ABC any rain was welcome but significantly more was needed to make any impact on the Victorian fires.

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A wife of a man fatally attacked by a shark while the couple dived together off WA’s south coast said he was at home in the ocean and understood the risks.

Gary Johnson was attacked by a suspected great white shark while diving and only parts of his diving gear have been recovered.

A statement from Karen Milligan was read out on Monday, just 24 hours after the shark attack which she witnessed.

The attack happened moments after the couple entered the water on a scuba diving outing near Cull Island off the Esperance coast.

Police said Ms Milligan was next to her husband in the water when the attack happened.

“Gary was my rock. He was a kind, gentle, strong man,” she said in the statement, read out by her daughter, and Mr Johnson’s stepdaughter, Hannah.

“He only ever saw the best in people. He will be so truly missed by me, by his family and his friends, and the world will be a poorer place without this most beautiful man.”

A number of items including a scuba tank have been retrieved from the water by police, but they are yet to locate Mr Johnson’s body.

Ms Milligan scrambled back to the boat after the attack and made a frantic mayday call over the radio about 1:00pm on Sunday.

Other nearby boat owners were the first on the scene near the island, about 7 kilometres offshore from Esperance, but all they could find was some of Mr Johnson’s diving gear.

Ms Milligan was eventually taken back to shore where a waiting ambulance took her to Esperance Hospital suffering from shock.

Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley said she had since been released into the care of her family and support was being offered to them.

“Our thoughts are with her and we are providing any and all support that might be required to assist her to deal with this unmitigated tragedy,” he said.

Ms Milligan said diving was one of Mr Johnson’s many passions, including his family, friends and the town of Esperance.

“He and I were at home in and on the ocean,” she said. “We would go out diving in our boat whenever we could, most weekends. We took photos, not fish.

“We were always aware of the risks, and often told each other that if we were attacked by a shark, that would just be unlucky. We were completely against shark culling, and I still am.

“We have watched with dismay the reduction of fish stocks over the years. We believed that if fish stocks were better protected, then the risk to people in the water would be reduced.

“Gary’s vision was to have a Marine Park in the Esperance area.”

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The United States has no plans to pull out militarily from Iraq, Defence Secretary Mark Esper told Pentagon reporters on Monday

The statement come in the aftermath of an American drone strike, ordered by US President Donald Trump, that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, widely seen as Iran’s second-most-powerful figure behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” Mr Esper said.

Mr Esper added the US was still committed to countering Islamic State in Iraq, alongside America’s allies and partners.

Earlier reports stated an official letter was issued by the US Department of Defence, saying it was pulling out of Iraq and would be repositioning forces over the next few days and weeks.

“Sir, in deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq, and as requested by the Iraqi Parliament and the Prime Minister, CJTF-OIR [Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve] will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement,” read a letter from US Marine Corps Brigadier General William H Seely III, the commanding general of Task Force Iraq.

The authenticity of the letter, which was addressed to the Iraqi Defence Ministry’s Combined Joint Operations Baghdad, was confirmed independently by an Iraqi military source.

“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” it said.

Top US army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the leaked letter was a poorly worded draft document meant to only underscore increased movement of forces.

“Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That’s not what’s happening,” Mr Milley said, stressing there was no withdrawal being planned.

Iran’s demand for US forces to withdraw from the region gained traction on Sunday when Iraq’s Parliament passed a resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave the country.

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