Australia to Scale Up Defense Response to Fires, Morrison Says

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(Bloomberg) -- Australia will ramp up its response to the country’s “unprecedented” wildfire disaster, deploying additional army, naval and aircraft services, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

As many as 3,000 army reserve personnel will be called out to support firefighters battling blazes that have killed 23 people since September, Morrison told reporters in Canberra. The Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Adelaide is due to sail from Sydney on Saturday afternoon, joining two other naval vessels in assisting with the evacuation of fire-affected communities, he said.

Australia to Scale Up Defense Response to Fires, Morrison Says

The prime minister was heckled on Thursday by angry residents when he visited the bushfire-ravaged town of Cobargo, where two people died last week, while others declined to shake his hand and called for more resources to tackle the disaster. His handling of the crisis -- highlighted by his curtailed trip to Hawaii just days after declaring a national disaster -- has stoked criticism over his political judgment, including by members of his own party.

“We are moving past responding,” Morrison said Saturday. “We’re integrating with what is happening on the ground.”

Additional defense measures outlined Saturday include deploying three helicopters, spending of A$20 million ($14 million) for the lease of four extra water-bombing aircraft, and the establishment of a national recovery agency.

Australia to Scale Up Defense Response to Fires, Morrison Says

The scale up will be aimed at saving lives, helping with evacuations, assisting isolated communities and aiding the recovery of those devastated by the wildfires.

The government has also allocated A$25 million for disaster-recovery payments in response to about 20,600 claims, Morrison said.

“This disaster has escalated to an entirely new level,” he said.

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