Fire hell fears grow
Mass evacuations State of emergency
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.