Tathra residents return home after devastating bushfires

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"It is being reported that at least 88 homes have been destroyed, mainly in Tathra, but there remains the disgusting prospect there will be more once we know the full scale of the disaster", Senator Cormann said.

The blaze is still burning...

Sixty-nine homes were destroyed in the seaside village of Tathra on the south coast of New South Wales when a fire tore through the area on Sunday.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten today visited some of the homes destroyed by fire, and said the wreckage shows how ferocious the blaze must have been.

The fires have destroyed 18 houses, killed livestock and razed farms in areas some 200 km southwest of Melbourne.

Earlier today total fire bans were issued for more than half of NSW, including the Greater Sydney region, with hot and windy conditions predicted to create unsafe conditions.

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The fire season in Australia varies according to the area and weather conditions.

The NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said she was "confident that every effort was made to tell people at the right time", after hearing criticism of the emergency warning system at the Rural Fire Service briefing centre.

"The worst of the weather is behind us, but clearly the devastation, damage and destruction is what everyone's seeking to grapple with now", he said.

"There's still a lot of fire around the landscape", he said, warning that it would still be several days before they were extinguished.

Earlier today Mr Ferguson spoke to media about how the area needed to be safe before the community could return.

Tony Murphy from Emergency Management Victoria said the SES told radio station 3AW: "We're so ecstatic about the fact no one has died".

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One of the few residents who stayed behind drove the empty streets on Monday afternoon, her hand covering her mouth in disbelief as she passed the flattened properties.

But a southerly change is expected to hit the area later in the afternoon which may push the fire in a different direction, the RFS says.

Bega Valley mayor Kristy McBain said about 35 properties had been damaged or destroyed and the town's roads, water system and sewage treatment plant were also damaged.

Elle Moyle was hosting a wedding at her property at Gazette, north of Warrnambool, when the fire came incredibly close on Saturday night.

Mr Andrews said police investigators were working to confirm what caused the fires.

The state government will provide immediate personal hardship payments, worth about $1900 per household, for food, clothing and shelter with assessment for further support.

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The fires, believed to have been sparked by lightning on Saturday, were fanned by dry, hot winds as temperatures reached 41 degrees Celsius (106 Fahrenheit) on Sunday.

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