SYDNEY, Nov. 11 (Seals News) — A devastating start to the Australian bushfire season has prompted a state of emergency in the eastern state of New South Wales (NSW), with the country’s largest city, Sydney bracing for “catastrophic” fire danger.
On Monday, a state of emergency was declared for NSW, with exceptionally hot and windy conditions predicted for Tuesday, threatening to create an even bigger fire disaster than that which left three people dead last week.
A “catastrophic” fire warning was issued for Tuesday in Sydney and the nearby Hunter and Illawarra/Shoalhaven regions, the first time that Sydney has received the highest danger level since it was introduced in 2009.
“Our state has already been hit by some of the most devastating bushfires we have ever seen, with three lives lost and more than 150 structures destroyed,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
“With catastrophic weather conditions predicted for this week, particularly Tuesday with hot weather and strong winds, I have decided to take the Commissioner’s advice and make this declaration.”
The state of emergency will last for seven days and transfers a number of crucial powers from the NSW government to the Rural Fire Service (RFS) commissioner.
Those include taking control of government resources, ordering evacuations, closing roads, entering or taking possession of property and ordering the shutdown of essential utilities in the declared area including electricity, gas, oil and water.
Many Australians remain in shock at the fires which ripped through NSW’s mid-north coast region on Friday and Saturday, leaving three people dead and more than 150 homes destroyed.
Hot and windy conditions on Friday afternoon saw roughly 1,000 firefighters and 70 aircraft battling an unprecedented 17 emergency-level fires across the state.
As conditions eased over the weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited affected residents at an evacuation center in the town of Taree, praising the resilience and ongoing efforts of support workers, and of the many deeply traumatized victims.
On Monday, firefighters scrambled to contain around 40 separate bushfires across the state before Tuesday’s predicted 35 degrees Celsius temperature and strong, gusty winds arrived, promising to make any still burning fires much more difficult to control.
“In catastrophic circumstances, routinely you can expect the most extraordinary of fire behavior – catastrophic conditions are where lives are lost,” RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
“(With) the volatility and the rapid spread of fire across the landscape, we are rarely able to do anything meaningful when it comes to suppression, our entire focus goes on to saving life.”