As tens of thousands of people rush to leave NSW’s South Coast, firefighters are busy tackling more than 110 blazes ravaging the state.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Thursday declared a state of emergency from Friday, as her Victorian counterpart Daniel Andrews revealed there were fears for 17 people still missing in the state’s blazes.
Ms Berejiklian said it would be a “horrible day” for much of NSW on Saturday with temperatures over 40 degrees as well as strong winds.
“The reason the why we’re doing it tomorrow ahead of Saturday is to make sure that Commissioner Fitzsimmons and all our personnel, all our agencies know that from tomorrow they will be subject to forced evacuations, road closures, road openings and anything else we need to do as a state to keep our residents and to keep property safe,” she said.
The bushfire crisis gripping southern Australia has spiralled into a “national emergency”, Labor leader Anthony Albanese told the ABC.
More than 2000 firefighters are working across NSW where more than 50 fires are burning out-of-control, and just three have been downgraded to a watch and act level.
These were the 229,000-hectare Currowan fire on the south coast, the 130,000-hectare Dunns Road fire in the Snowy Valleys and the 104,000-hectare Green Valley fire east of Albury.
Holidaymakers have been told to leave the NSW South Coast ahead of dangerous bushfire conditions expected in the coming days.
A “tourist leave zone” has been declared for a 12,235-square-kilometre area between Batemans Bay and the edge of Victoria’s northern border.
It is the “largest mass relocation of people out of the region that we’ve ever seen,” NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said.
Dangerous conditions are predicted for the weekend, possibly worse than those on New Year’s Eve, when a firestorm devastated villages and major centres.
The NSW Rural Fire Service said seven regions are under “very high” fire danger, including the central ranges, the ACT, New England and southern slopes. No total fire bans were declared on Thursday.
Building Impact Assessment teams are working through fire affected areas, assessing damage to properties. Assessments on South Coast since 1 Jan confirm 382 homes destroyed, and more than 700 buildings have been saved. This work will continue over coming days. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/ne47iIVGUS
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 1, 2020
Batlow in NSW’s south-west slopes region is being evacuated after residents were reportedly told they would not be able to rely on emergency services to protect them from fires which are are forecast to bear down on the small town in the next couple of days.
Everyone in Kosciuszko National Park, west of Canberra, has also been urged to flee the area due to out-of-control fires burning to the west and south of the park. They have been given until 10am on Friday to evacuate.
“This is an essential measure to protect life,” a statement on the National Parks website read.
There are multiple other fires burning within the park, with serious concerns they could expand in coming days.
“This is not a fire season that NSW has seen before. It is hotter and drier than we have previously experienced,” the statement said.
— Scott (@All_Eskat) January 2, 2020
Victorians don’t have it any easier with more than 1000 firefighters deployed to contain 51 fires still burning in the state, including a “very active” blaze at Ensay in the Swifts Creek Valley.
Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed there were at least 17 people missing across the state following the East Gippsland fires.
After returning from volunteer firefighter Geoff Keaton’s funeral, Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a press conference, urging people in fire zones to remain patient.
“What you cannot have in these situations is governments stepping over the top of each other in responding to a natural disaster,” he said.
What is happening in Australia today will become increasingly common around the world if we do not aggressively combat climate change and transform our energy system away from fossil fuels. The future of the planet is at stake. We must act. https://t.co/JvspMDtqAD
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 2, 2020
Authorities said people in alpine and East Gippsland areas who aren’t in the 24 isolated communities including Mallacoota, Ovens Valley and Buckland Valley, should evacuate before Saturday’s predicted extreme fire danger.
There are more fires around Hotham and Omeo, with ten watch and act warnings in place, including six in East Gippsland, two in Victoria’s northeast, and two in the alpine region.
Meanwhile, two large naval ships docked off the coast of Mallacoota on Thursday morning, days after a large fire forced 4000 people, mainly tourists, to take shelter near the beaches.
“Not all of those will want to leave, not all can get on the vessel at one time,” Mr Andrews told the ABC.
High priority will be given to people who are sick and vulnerable as well as children, a Victoria police official said.
The smoke from Australia’s bushfires seems to have reached as far as New Zealand, with locals there reporting a strong smoky scent in the air.
This the view from the top of the Tasman Glacier NZ today – whole South island experiencing bushfire clouds. We can actually smell the burning here in Christchurch. Thinking of you guys. 😢#nswbushfire #AustralianFires #AustraliaBurning pic.twitter.com/iCzOGkou4o
— Miss Roho (@MissRoho) January 1, 2020
Canberra’s air quality has been declared the worst out of any major city in the world as smoke from bushfires along the NSW South Coast chokes the capital.
The smoke is so hazardous that Australia Post decided on Thursday to suspend all deliveries to the city until “further notice”. Nine pools shut their gates and a number of other attractions have reportedly closed.
A global air quality index ranked Canberra’s air worse than New Delhi, India or Lahore, Pakistan.
There is still significant smoke haze in Canberra, however the Memorial remains open today. Poor air quality means today’s Last Post Ceremony will be held in Anzac Hall. Please keep an eye on our website and social media for visitor information.
Pic: 9am this morning pic.twitter.com/bowAno3UUP
— Aust War Memorial (@AWMemorial) January 2, 2020
Conditions were worse in the NSW coastal town of Batemans Bay, which has been besieged by fires in recent days, rating nearly twice as bad as Canberra earlier on Wednesday.
Air quality in Canberra is more than 10 times the hazardous level, according to local health authorities, having peaked at more than 20 times the hazardous level on Wednesday.
The smoke is expected to linger over the capital in the coming days, with the Bureau of Meteorology saying high temperatures were trapping the smog there.
Locals in Hobart have been warned about going home after bushfires left a trail of destruction.
Fallen trees and powerlines are among the items posing a hazard on roads towards Pelham, the Tasmania Fire Service warned on Thursday.
The area was previously subject to an evacuation alert and remains at ‘advice’ level as the uncontrolled blaze continues to burn.
“Pelham and surrounding areas … may still be threatened with ember attack and residents are asked to be mindful of changing wind conditions,” the TFS said in a statement, noting that non-residents will not be granted access to the township.