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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
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

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital