Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets crews from Woodside County Fire Service in Woodside, Australia, Tuesday. Morrison has announced that volunteer firefighters in New South Wales, where fires have been blazing for months, could be eligible for some compensation for lost wages. Photo by Kelly Barnes/EPA-EFE
Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Some volunteer firefighters in Australia could receive up to $4,189 in financial support to compensate for wages lost while battling brush fires that have blazed across the country since September.
The federal government announced Sunday volunteer firefighters in New South Wales who are self-employed or work for small or medium-sized business could receive up to $209.50 per day for volunteering for Rural Fire Service NSW, Australia's 7 News reported.
The payments, which are available to volunteers who have spent more than 10 days fighting fires in New South Wales, are tax-free and will not be means tested.
"While I know RFS volunteers don't seek payment for their service, I don't want to see volunteers or families unable to pay bills, or struggle financially as a result of the selfless contribution they are making," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
"This is not about paying volunteers. It is about sustaining our volunteer efforts by protecting them from financial loss."
The decision follows weeks of criticism of Morrison's handling of the bush fire crisis.
Morrison had previously rejected the idea of compensating firefighters.
When he announced the possibility of compensation Sunday, the prime minister said this move should not lead to permanent pay, the BBC reported.
"The early and prolonged nature of this fire season has made a call beyond what is typically made on our volunteer firefighters," Mr Morrison said.
Fires in New South Wales alone have cost eight lives, as many as 1,000 homes and millions of acres of bushland.
More than 100 fires continue to sweep across the country and authorities fear a heat wave forecast to sweep across the country in the coming days could escalate the fires.
Fire risk has prompted the cancellation of a large music festival in Victoria, as well as calls for the cancellation of the annual New Year's Eve fireworks display in Sydney.
The latter event will go forward as planned, with Sydney mayor Clover Moore saying a cancellation would be "of little practical advantage" to those harmed by the fires, and that a celebration would bring residents together amid tough times.