Emergency fire warnings have been issued for blazes in NSW on a day of expected catastrophic danger for millions across the state.
The Rural Fire Service had issued emergency warnings for bushfires in the Washpool State Forest near Tenterfield; at the Liberation Trail, west of Coffs Harbour; Carrai East, west of Kempsey; Hillville, north of Nabiac; Torrington, near Tenterfield; Thunderbolts Way in Bretti, west of Taree; Reserve Road, north of Gloucester and south-east of Nowendoc; Nambucca on the mid north coast; Reserves Road at Mares Run, north of Newcastle; and the Dingo Tops Road fire on the Mid North Coast.
Within a half-hour period, between about 1pm and 1:30pm, seven emergency warnings were issued by the NSW Rural Fire Service.
An earlier fire at Llangothlin, north of Armidale, was downgrade to “watch and act”.
“We are certainly starting to see an increase in fire activity and therefore the fire danger is increasing accordingly,” Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
“The reality is conditions will simply continue to get worse and deteriorate over the coming hours and particularly into this afternoon when the combination of the hotter temperatures, the drier atmosphere and the strengthening winds all come together to drive fire.”
EMERGENCY WARNING: Wine Country Dr, North Rothbury (Cessnock LGA)
The fire is burning in the area of Wine Country Drive at North Rothbury and spreading quickly. Property is under threat. If you are in the area, it is too late to leave. Seek shelter. #nswrfs #nswfires #alert pic.twitter.com/MuOOiUieDI
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) November 12, 2019
Mr Fitzsimmons said fires at Nimbin, west of Mullumbimby, and in the Wollemi National Park, north of Sydney, were also developing early on Tuesday afternoon.
Sydney and parts of NSW face an unprecedented fire threat that has stretched resources on Tuesday, with about 6 million people bracing for the worst.
Thousands of homes backing onto bushland on Sydney’s urban fringes are at risk in what could be the most dangerous bushfire week in Australia’s history.
Nine schools have been evacuated, after more than 600 schools and TAFEs across NSW were closed, as were childcare centres in high-risk areas.
“We’ve got every firefighter we can get, we’ve got every aircraft we can get, we’ve got military aircraft coming in to help us to look at rescuing people if people are stuck,” Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.
“Absolutely everything we can do is being brought to bear.”
A catastrophic fire danger rating – the highest possible level – covers the entire Sydney metropolis, Greater Hunter and Illawarra-Shoalhaven areas. It is the first time the rating has been used since it was introduced a decade ago.
There is an extreme fire danger rating – the second highest – for the NSW north coast, southern ranges, central ranges, New England, northern slopes and north-western areas.
Bush areas on Sydney’s fringes are at greatest risk. However, ash could travel as far as 30 kilometres to the CBD.
Mr Rogers said blistering temperatures in the high 30s, low humidity and winds of up to 80km/h, coupled with the drought meant NSW faced “horrendous conditions”.
“I just hope we get through that OK,” he said.
“We’ve just got town after town after town that will be under threat,” he told ABC News on Monday night.
A week-long state of emergency has been declared by Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who has pleaded with people to heed the fire service’s warnings and stay away from bushland.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has said Australian Defence Force personnel would be on standby to provide other support if needed.
Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said residents faced what “could be the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen”.
Exhausted firefighters 😭😭😭😭😭😭😭Our genuine heroes 😭😭😭😭
— KEEERRRRRR (@bubuke4U) November 11, 2019
Mr Rogers said places where fires were already raging and were not contained – such as the mid-north coast and north coast – are “going to cause us problems”.
Fires since Friday have claimed the lives of three people and destroyed at least 150 homes.
This week, a war of words has broken out over a potential link between the fires and climate change.
Ms Berejiklian said it was not the time to discuss the issue, but insisted her government had not shied away from talking about it and would discuss it at another time.
On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack condemned what he described as the “disgraceful, disgusting” behaviour of “raving inner-city lunatics” linking climate change to the blazes.
But some of those who have been directly affected made their feelings clear.
“To disregard the issue of climate change in a situation like this is wrong,” Cerene Lowe, whose home was among many razed in Wytaliba on Friday, said.
Fellow Wytabila resident and Glen Innes Severn mayor Carol Sparks, whose home has been severely damaged by fire, said there was “no doubt” about the link to climate change.
It is also estimated that at least 350 koalas have perished in the fires.
Queensland fire threat
Queensland is also bracing for severe fire danger as temperatures soar up to 10 degrees above average in coming days.
Conditions are expected to worsen on Tuesday, with high to very high fire danger forecast and severe conditions expected mid-week.
There are 65 bushfires statewide, with an uncontrolled blaze at Cobraball in central Queensland that by Monday had destroyed eight homes and damaged five.
Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Vince Rowlands said hot, dry and windy conditions were expected to peak on Wednesday. There would be a couple of easier days before the winds strengthened again at the weekend.
Much of the state is suffering “pretty poor air quality” due to smoke. Mr Rowlands said that would remain for some days.
No significant rain is forecast for the next week and long-term predictions are for drier and warmer than average conditions.
People with respiratory conditions have been told to stay inside, with health authorities warning people to stay inside unless necessary.