Australia increases emergency funding for companies affected by forest fires

SYDNEY: Monday increased grants and emergency loans for small businesses affected by forest fires that have devastated the country during the peak tourist season, as firefighters used a colder climate to prepare for the return of dangerous fire conditions .

The fires killed 29 people and millions of animals, destroyed more than 2,500 houses and razed an area about one third the size of Germany since September.

Several days of rain and a drop in temperature have reduced the amount of active fires in the densely populated southeast of the country and have given the authorities the opportunity to concentrate on the recovery effort.

The federal government said it would increase subsidies for small businesses affected by the fires to A $ 50,000 ($ 34,400) each, from A $ 15,000 previously announced, and offer loans up to A $ 500,000, with no interest for two years.

Customers return and businesses are rebuilt and local cities and communities are rebuilt with their support, the prime minister said Scott Morrison told the television network Nine Entertainment Co Holdings Ltd.

My priority is to get support from the communities where it is needed.

The Australian tourism industry estimates that the fires that have been unleashed during the holiday season from December to January have cost almost a billion dollars.

Monday's Office issued a severe thunderstorm warning for large parts of the state of New South Wales, including coastal cities affected by forest fires.

Severe storms are likely to cause harmful winds, large hail stones and heavy rains that can cause flash flooding in the warning area over the next few hours, the office said in a statement.

Firefighters had taken advantage of the milder conditions to stop the spread of fire and build containment lines before the increase in fire risks, the Rural Fire Service of New South Wales said in a post on its Twitter account.

Heat and wind conditions would likely return to many parts of NSW later in the week, he added.

The Australian Open tennis tournament began in Melbourne on Monday with organizers saying they would control the air quality after a player collapsed on the court and left a qualifying match due to smoke inhalation.

The city's air quality was rated as good, according to the Air Quality Index, as it was dangerous less than a week before.

These are the key events in the forest fire crisis:

* Early on Monday, 83 fires were set on fire in New South Wales, none above the lowest warning level, and there were 33 emergency warnings in Victoria, including a flood warning.

* Thunderstorms are forecast for the states of New South Wales and Victoria, including possible hail, according to meteorologists.

* Firefighters warn that high temperatures and heat will return later this week, creating a return to dangerous conditions.

* The Australian federal government increases grants for fire-affected companies to A $ 50,000 from A $ 15,000 and offers loans of A $ 500,000.

* The Australian Open tennis tournament began in the city of Melbourne on Monday despite storm forecasts. A week earlier, a player collapsed in a coughing attack and withdrew from the qualification amid a thick layer of forest fire smoke on the court. ($ 1 = 1.4535 Australian dollars)