New South Wales faces a fire risk that is “as bad as it gets”, with Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons saying forecast conditions were worse than those confronting Victoria ahead of the 2009 Black Saturday bush fires, which claimed 173 lives.
Parts of NSW faced unprecedented catastrophic fire danger as 50 fires burned across the state on Saturday, with 17 of them ‘not contained’, according to Mr Fitzsimmons.
“We haven’t seen this in NSW to this extent ever,” Mr Fitzsimmons said. “It’s not another summer’s day. It’s not another bad fire day. This is as bad as it gets.”
A teenage boy has been charged with arson offences after he allegedly lit a fire in the NSW central west during extreme fire danger conditions.
A witness has told police they saw the 13-year-old, who was part of a group of teenagers, light a grass patch in an industrial area of Orange about 4.45pm Saturday.
The group fled, but the boy was later taken to the Orange police station and charged with destroying property, setting fire to the property of another and failing to comply with direction of the minister.
He was granted bail and is expected to appear in a children’s court on Monday.
“The fire was extinguished and whilst no building structures were damaged, approximately 100 wrecked motor vehicles were,” police said.
The temperature in the region at the time was approaching 40C.
A total fire ban is in place for the entire state for the remainder of the weekend, with fire authorities describing the catastrophic conditions as “off the conventional scale”.
Fitzsimmons told Sky News on Saturday afternoon that conditions were “expected to deteriorate”.
“Conditions for Sunday are going to be the worst possible conditions when it comes to fire danger ratings. They are catastrophic. They are labelled catastrophic for a reason. They are rare. They are infrequent.”
Citing Australia’s worst bushfire disaster, the Black Saturday inferno of February 2009, Mr Fitzsimmon said “the forecast indices (for Sunday) are greater than those faced by Victoria at the time”.
“To put it simply, they are off the old conventional scale. We used to stop our fire danger ratings at 100. We are talking indices tomorrow up over 150, 160 which is quite extraordinary.
“The last time we saw catastrophic forest fire danger ratings was back in January 2013 in a geographic area limited to the southern ranges and the Illawarra Shoalhaven. This is a magnitude of some 3, 4, 5 times larger geographically.”
Phone warning messages being sent to people in Catastrophic fire danger areas. If you get a message, take it seriously. Take action. #NSWRFS
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) February 11, 2017
The monster hot air mass hovering over NSW had had “a baking effect” on vegetation, which meant extreme warnings would pose a major risk on Sunday.
Prepare early and stay out of danger
Mr Fitzsimmons urged people to prepare early and stay out of danger by spending time at the the movies or a local shopping centre.
“You will not outrun these fires”, he warned, urging people to avoid or leave the bush.
You will not outrun these fires.
National parks in the high fire dangers areas across the state were being shut down on Saturday so that fewer people might be caught out.
“We don’t want people camping, we don’t want people bushwalking, we don’t want people out there four-wheel driving or riding their motorbikes through at risk areas — the risk is real,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
“The only safe place to be is not in at risk areas. We simply cannot guarantee a fire truck at every home under these conditions.”
Mr Fitzsimmons told Sky News on Saturday afternoon that “at this stage no fires are posing a threat”.
“They are all at advice level and we are doing a lot of work.”
A photo posted by Dee Ritz Em Vee (@deeveethetv) on
Records smashed across NSW
The highest temperature in the state on Saturday was Ivanhoe at 47.6C; the highest record for anywhere in NSW was recorded in 1939 at 49.7C.
There were many records broken across the state:
- Penrith today reached 46.9C, beating its previous record of 46.5C;
- Forbes recorded 45.5C, with its previous record only 44C;
- Williamtown also reached 45.5C after a previous high of 44.7C.
Meanwhile, AGL Energy said it would shut down the Tomago Aluminium Smelter for the second day running to curtail electricity and prevent blackouts across the state, after NSW residents were yesterday warned to cut down their power use to avoid mass blackouts.
AGL took the precautionary measure of shutting down the smelter — responsible for about 10 per cent of the state’s electricity consumption — yesterday afternoon and planned to do so again today at 4:00pm for about 2 to 3 hours.
Heat is on for ACT and QLD
In the ACT, emergency services issued a total fire ban until Sunday and authorities warned they may also be forced to switch off electricity in parts of Canberra in a bid to avoid any disruptions to supplies.
After facing the hottest maximum temperature (41C) of any capital city on Friday, there was no respite for Canberra again with the mercury reaching the same heights.
Many of the territory’s reserves and parks were closed because of the fire danger, including Tidbinbilla nature reserve, Mulligans Flat and the Centenary trail.
— Ashleigh Stevenson (@ash_stevenson10) February 11, 2017
South-east Queenslanders were also experiencing a steamy weekend, with temperatures rising up to 10C above average across the region and through inland towns.
BOM forecaster Michelle Berry said temperatures on Sunday looked set to break records across the state.
“We’re going to see February records tumbling — for instance Birdsville we have a forecast of about 47C for Sunday, which hopefully will be the top,” she said.
– with AAP and ABC