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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software / Web Developer - ASP.NET

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company produces a wide ra...

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones