Australia Bushfires: New South Wales declares state of emergency as blaze threatens Sydney

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

State of emergency declared as concern grows over formation of single huge fire front

Sydney

A state of emergency was declared in New South Wales yesterday amid warnings that bushfires which have already destroyed nearly 200 homes in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, will intensify in the coming days and threaten outer suburbs of Australia’s largest city.

With dangerously hot and windy weather forecast for the next three days, the Commissioner of the Rural Fire Service, Shane Fitzsimmons, said the state was facing its worst fire conditions since the 1960s. “The reality is, however, these conditions that we’re looking at are a whole new ball game and in a league of their own,” he said yesterday.

While dozens of fires are burning across the state, three large blazes in the Blue Mountains are causing most concern. If they join up to form a single mammoth fire front – which Mr Fitzsimmons said could “very easily” happen – the entire area, home to 76,000 people, could be in danger, requiring mass evacuations.

There are also fears that flames could jump the Nepean River, at the foot of the mountains, and threaten densely populated suburbs of western Sydney, such as Penrith. After three days of milder weather, temperatures are expected to reach 38C in Penrith today, while winds of up to 60mph are forecast for Wednesday.

As residents of the worst-hit towns of Springwood and Winmalee returned to comb through the ruins of their homes, the NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, announced the state of emergency, which empowers the emergency services to carry out forced evacuations.

“There is potential for a significant and widespread danger to life and property across the state,” Mr O’Farrell said. “If the choice is life or property, the choice clearly should be life.”

More than 2,000 men and women are battling to contain the blazes. On Saturday night, they were joined by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, a volunteer firefighter, who helped with back-burning operations in the mountains. As of last night, 69 fires were still burning, 22 of them out of control. Some may take weeks to extinguish.

Around the state, the fires – which took hold amid hot, windy weather last Thursday – have already destroyed 208 homes and damaged 122. The only fatality so far was a 63-year-old man who died of a heart attack on the Central Coast, north of Sydney, last week while trying to protect his house.

Mr Fitzsimmons said communities in the Blue Mountains and around the Hawkesbury River, north-west of Sydney, faced “unparalleled” risks in the coming days, and he expected “significant relocation of people out of harm’s way”.

Some residents have said they plan to stay and defend their homes, but the state’s Assistant Police Commissioner, Alan Clarke, said police were prepared to enforce mandatory evacuation orders. “At the end of the day, we hope we have buildings standing. But if we don’t have buildings standing, we don’t want bodies in them,” he said.

The Australian military is investigating whether one of the major fires, which began on Defence department land near the town of Lithgow, was linked to an explosives training exercise that day. Police have charged two girls, aged 12 and 13, with starting a small fire in western Sydney, which was extinguished by firefighters.

While bushfires are common during the Australian summer, the timing of the current fires is highly unusual. Experts point to record spring temperatures following a warm, dry winter.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer (PHP & Wordpress) - Central London

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Web Dev...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative - Unskilled & Skilled

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen to jo...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Law Firm - Bromley

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Market...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee