Australia wildfires: Firefighters prepare for worst as hot weather returns

 

Australian firefighters are working desperately to contain massive wildfires burning in mountains west of Sydney, but with forecasts of high winds and dangerously hot weather, authorities fear more houses and lives will be lost.

More than 200 homes have been destroyed in New South Wales (NSW) state since Thursday, when fires tore through scattered communities on Sydney's outskirts, razing entire streets. One man died after suffering a heart attack trying to protect his home.

"The forecast and scenario for tomorrow is about as bad as it gets. On days like tomorrow there is a very real potential for more loss of homes and loss of life," said New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

Sixty fires were burning on Tuesday, with the largest and most dangerous in the Blue Mountains around 100 km (6 miles) west of Sydney.

The fires are expected to flare on Wednesday with the return of temperatures in the mid-30 degree Celsius (high-80 degree Fahrenheit) range and winds gusting up to 100 kph (62 mph).

Sydney and its surrounding regions have been given an "extreme fire danger rating" for Wednesday. Fitzsimmons urged everyone who does not need to be in the Blue Mountains to be out of the area by lunchtime.

Authorities ordered schools in the Blue Mountains to be closed on Wednesday and evacuated nursing homes in the area.

"Tomorrow is going to be the worst of the fire weather days. Whatever results from the run of these fires we will seek to deal with and deal with the absolute focus of life preservation and the saving of as much property as we can."

But Fitzsimmons told mountain residents not to expect a fire truck to save their home as they may not be able to reach everyone in time.

The early season fires have burned through more than 120,000 hectares (300,000 acres) and have a perimeter of some 1,600 km (990 miles). Air pollution in parts of Sydney spiked on Tuesday to dangerously high levels as smoke and ash blanketed the city.

The insurance council of Australia said claims of more than A$93m (£58m) were expected to grow and the NSW government has declared a state of emergency enabling it to order evacuations.

Thousands of firefighters, including some from New Zealand and from other Australian states, had joined the battle, using hundreds of fire engines and 90 aircraft.

With steep hills carpeted by eucalyptus forests and dotted with small communities, the Blue Mountains are a popular day trip from Sydney, but its rugged and often inaccessible terrain can become a fire nightmare during the long, hot Southern Hemisphere summer.

Police have arrested several children suspected of starting a number of different fires. Other fires were sparked by power lines arcing in strong winds, according to the fire service.

With dry weather and a massive land area, Australia is particularly prone to bushfires. In 2009, the "Black Saturday" wildfires in Victoria state killed 173 people and caused $4.4 billion worth of damage.

Record hot and dry weather across the continent and an early start to the fire season have rekindled arguments on mankind's impact on climate and what can be done to mitigate it.

Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The cartoon depicts the UK (far left) walking around a Syrian child refugee
newsIn an exclusive artwork for The Independent, Ali Ferzat attacks Britain's lack of 'humanity'
Life and Style
Man taking selfie in front of car
health
Sport
footballManager attacks Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp after criticism of Diego Costa's apparent stamping
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Digital Account Manager - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web-based lead generation ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore