Fire hell fears grow

Mass evac­u­a­tions State of emer­gency

Mercury (Hobart) - - FRONT PAGE - NICK HANSEN AND AAP

CON­DI­TIONS for a “per­fect firestorm’’ are threat­en­ing NSW, with blis­ter­ing heat and gale-force winds pre­dicted to turn the state’s bush­fire emer­gency into an ur­ban disas­ter.

A seven-day state of emer­gency was de­clared yes­ter­day as fire chiefs ex­tended the cat­a­strophic fire threat zone from greater Syd­ney and the Hunter to Wol­lon­gong and Shell­har­bour. More than 450 schools are closed as fire­fight­ing con­di­tions de­te­ri­o­rate.

CON­DI­TIONS for a “per­fect firestorm’’ are threat­en­ing New South Wales today, with blis­ter­ing heat and gale-force winds pre­dicted to turn the state’s bush­fire emer­gency into an ur­ban disas­ter.

A seven-day state of emer­gency — the first since 2013 — was yes­ter­day de­clared by Premier Gla­dys Bere­jik­lian, as fire chiefs ex­tended the cat­a­strophic fire threat zone from greater Syd­ney and the Hunter to Wol­lon­gong and Shell­har­bour.

More than 450 schools are closed today as tem­per­a­tures in the high 30Cs, winds over 80km/h and low hu­mid­ity are ex­pected to make it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for fire­fight­ers to

I’VE BEEN IN THIS IN­DUS­TRY FOR 40 YEARS, AND I’VE NOT SEEN A SCE­NARIO LIKE THIS BE­FORE ROB ROGERS

con­trol the worst fires — from the north coast where three peo­ple have al­ready died, to the city’s fringe in the Hawkes­bury and Blue Moun­tains.

The Ru­ral Fire Ser­vice re­ported a sim­i­lar weather forecast to that on Black Satur­day, the 2009 fire disas­ter that killed 173 peo­ple in Vic­to­ria.

“I’ve been in this in­dus­try for 40 years, and I’ve not seen a sce­nario like this be­fore,” RFS deputy com­mis­sioner Rob Rogers said.

“I re­ally haven’t – not when you’ve got all this fire and this cat­a­strophic risk. If some­one came to me and said, ‘Let’s do a sce­nario role­play’ I’d say ‘Let’s try to keep this a bit more re­al­is­tic’. It’s that sort of out-of-the-box.”

The RFS took the ex­tra­or­di­nary step yes­ter­day of urg­ing peo­ple to leave their homes a day ahead of ex­pected fires.

“If you’re in … a cat­a­strophic area, then what you’ve got to think about is, is it some­where you think you should be,” Mr Rogers said.

“It’s re­ally those peo­ple who are iso­lated, say down a sin­gle road with bush on both sides. If a fire comes to them they may get trapped.” Blue Moun­tains RFS dis­trict man­ager David Jones urged lo­cals to leave yes­ter­day.

“It may well be it’s bet­ter to go, re­lo­cate to Syd­ney. They need to take some ac­tion,” Mr Jones said.

“We’re ask­ing peo­ple to con­sider a large town or city, shop­ping cen­tre or a fa­cil­ity that’s well away from bush­land.

“Es­sen­tially we are ex­tremely con­cerned about the weather that’s com­ing through. The Blue Moun­tains is a very bush­fire-prone area.”

Em­bers are ex­pected to be blown 30km from fires into the Syd­ney sub­urbs today and ash could go sig­nif­i­cantly fur­ther, eas­ily reach­ing the CBD.

A sharp southerly change due about 5pm may only make mat­ters worse, as large fire fringes can quickly be­come deadly fire fronts.

It is not only ru­ral or city fringe schools shut­ting, with Manly Vale Public, Me­nai Public and Mars­den Park Public in sub­ur­ban Syd­ney all ex­pected to be closed today.

Grey­hound rac­ing meets in Goul­burn, Gos­ford and Lis­more have been aban­doned and horse rac­ing in Scone has also been post­poned un­til to­mor­row.

More than 300 Vic­to­rian fire­fight­ers were be­ing rushed north last night to join thou­sands of vol­un­teers on the NSW front line.

It is pre­dicted there will be up to 20,000 peo­ple fight­ing fires across the state today,

with the Aus­tralian De­fence Force also on standby to help where it can.

The de­ci­sion to call a state of emer­gency gives in­creased pow­ers to RFS Com­mis­sioner Shane Fitzsim­mons, in­clud­ing to di­rect other gov­ern­ment agen­cies, evac­u­ate peo­ple, close roads and shut down es­sen­tial util­i­ties where nec­es­sary.

NSW Health has warned that shock­ing air qual­ity today could cause prob­lems for any­one with asthma or em­phy­sema.

“Smoke from fire on the mid-north coast is be­ing blown south and peo­ple with these con­di­tions should avoid out­door phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity when there’s smoke around,” en­vi­ron­men­tal health di­rec­tor Richard Broome said.

“The best way to re­duce ex­po­sure to smoke is to stay in­doors with the doors and win­dows shut.”

In Queens­land, bush­fires that have de­stroyed nine homes and dam­aged oth­ers have also sent air qual­ity plum­met­ing in parts of the state.

Health au­thor­i­ties in Queens­land are urg­ing peo­ple to avoid time out­doors with haze from the fires push­ing air qual­ity to very poor lev­els, in­clud­ing in the state’s heav­ily pop­u­lated south­east.

There are 51 fires still burn­ing statewide, in­clud­ing the still-to-be con­trolled Co­bra­ball blaze south­west of Yep­poon in cen­tral Queens­land.

Eight homes have been lost to that fire so far, along with farm sheds and other struc­tures. About 11,000ha of land have also been black­ened. A ninth home was de­stroyed in the Cooroibah fire, which also con­tin­ues to burn on the Sun­shine Coast.

In South Aus­tralia, homes and busi­nesses in Port Lin­coln were threat­ened by an out-of-con­trol bush­fire burn­ing in stubble on the out­skirts of the Eyre Penin­sula town.

An emer­gency warn­ing re­mained in place last night for res­i­dents in Port Lin­coln’s western fringe.

The re­gional cen­tre has a pop­u­la­tion of about 16,000, with the Coun­try Fire Ser­vice warn­ing the fire re­mained a se­ri­ous risk to lives and prop­erty.

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