SYDNEY: Nearly 2,000 houses have been destroyed in Australia's months-long bushfire crisis, officials said on Tuesday, as crews prepare frantically for worsening conditions.
Besides the destruction of the 1,588 houses, the New South Wales (NSW) officials said that the fires had damaged 653 more, the BBC reported.
About 200 homes have been destroyed in neighbouring Victoria state, adding to more than 100 lost in other states.
The Insurance Council of Australia has estimated that the damage bill had reached AUD 700 million ( USD 485 million) but said it was expected the cost to rise significantly.
After ferocious conditions last week, firefighters were using the milder weather to boost containment lines around fires engulfing south-eastern Australia.
But temperatures were likely to soar again on Friday, prompting fears that two fires in NSW and Victoria could form a new "mega blaze".
With smoke tormenting cities including Canberra, Sydney and now Melbourne, doctors have warned of increased respiratory dangers - especially to vulnerable people, including pregnant women.
On Monday, the Bureau of Meteorology warned that visibility in Melbourne was less than 1 km in many parts of the city and its surroundings.
Since the bushfires started in September, at least 25 people and millions of animals have died in the blazes fuelled by record temperatures and widespread drought, the BBC reported.
Tuesday also saw the funeral of a firefighter who died on December 19 in an accident on the way to a major blaze near Sydney.
Andrew O'Dwyer was killed alongside his colleague Harvey Keaton when their fire truck hit a fallen tree.
Dozens of fellow firefighters formed a guard of honour outside a church in Sydney.