Victorians can expect to gasp through another day of toxic smoke, which is expected to last until at least Wednesday afternoon.
Hazardous air quality alerts will remain in place after smoke from the East Gippsland and New South Wales fires brought so many dangerous levels of fine particles to Melbourne on Tuesday that for a time the city recorded the world’s worst air quality.
A cool change is forecast to move across the state on Wednesday afternoon, bringing a reprieve from the smoke haze and helping disperse the bushfire smoke.
But Victorians will have to wait until Thursday for the air quality to even reach a moderate rating, meaning players preparing for next week’s Australian Open will have to again battle through smoke at Melbourne Park.
A number of players complained about the conditions on Tuesday, including Australian Bernard Tomic, who sought medical treatment during his first round loss when he struggled to breathe.
It’s expected the smoke will continue to shut down pools, beaches and force the closure of some workplaces. Flights were cancelled on Tuesday and passengers may experience further disruptions until the haze clears.
For one Melburnian, conditions have become so unbearable he is packing his bags and flying to Germany for some respite.
‘I avoid going outdoor at all costs’
Sam (who did not wish to use his real name) has been struggling to go about his normal life without coughing fits because of the bushfire smoke that’s continued to engulf the city.
Despite strapping on a P2 face mask whenever outside, Sam can’t seem to shake the persistent tickle in his throat. But that’s not all.
“Like many other people, I have experienced heavy coughing, difficulties to breathe, throat irritation, burning eyes,” he told The New Daily.
Remaining in Melbourne is no longer an option for the engineer.
“Due to the smoke, I had to change my work activities and cancel appointments in my day-to-day life, business meetings, friend catch up, gym and my birthday plans,” he said.
“I avoid going outdoor at all costs if I notice that I start coughing on my way to work.”
When he does make it outside, a masked Sam can’t help but notice the odd looks he gets from strangers.
He’s now loading his belongings into a suitcase and checking for available flights to Germany where he can continue the rest of his work until the air quality in Melbourne returns to normal.
“When you reach the hazardous air quality range anyone can develop symptoms,” Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said on Tuesday.
“There can be eye, nose and throat irritation, people can have a cough develop or worse, or even wheeze.”
Asthma can be deadly – and authorities are stressing that even people who have not had it before could suffer in the smoke.
Bushfire smoke from nearby fires in NSW is believed to have triggered Courtney Partridge-McLennan’s fatal asthma attack on November 28 last year.
Family of the 19-year-old revealed this week that her body was found the following morning. She had her phone torch on as if she had been looking for something, her sister told the ABC, and her ventolin medication was nearby.
University of Melbourne air quality expert Dr Gabriel da Silva is urging people to take precautions whenever they see or smell smoke. All smoke is toxic, she said.
Cool change brings rain
Health authorities expect the air quality to bounce between the “very poor to hazardous range” until at least Wednesday afternoon, with a top temperature of 34 before a late change that’s set to bring rain.
— Melbourne Crimewatch 2020 (@ButtComedicTho) January 13, 2020
The Bureau of Meteorology said cooler conditions would remain for Victoria until the weekend, with maximum temperatures in the low 20s.
But rain and thunderstorms accompanying the cool change will hardly help firefighters battling blazes in the state’s east and northeast.
Less than 5mm of rain and thunderstorms are forecast for fire-affected areas, bringing dry lightning that could spark new fires.
Central Victoria could see between 5mm and 15mm of rainfall.
Reprieve for NSW firefighters
NSW can expect rainfall totals of 30 to 80 millimetres from Thursday, with strong falls possible for fire grounds in the Snowy Mountains, southwest of Sydney and South Coast regions.
The Bega Valley Shire Council said it would work with the RFS to manage any impacts caused by the deluge, particularly on sediment runoff into waterways.
“Weather predictions indicate conditions are favourable over the next week for the containment effort,” the council posted on its Facebook page.
Firefighters have welcomed the forecast as the best news in months but the Bureau of Meteorology said the rain could be a “double-edged sword”.
“Hopefully some of this heavy rainfall will fall over fire sites and help control or even extinguish fires,” meteorologist Sarah Scully said on Tuesday.
“But it’s a bit of a double-edged sword because heavy rainfall and gusty thunderstorms bring the potential for flash flooding, particularly in the burnt-out areas of NSW and Victoria which are now vulnerable to land slips and trees coming down.”
The fire service has been working closely with the SES, NSW Police and the Bureau of Meteorology to track the location of the heaviest falls.
Despite the easing conditions, fire danger ratings are still high for large parts of NSW on Wednesday.