NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has admitted to “mixed feelings” about the New Year’s Eve fireworks display in Sydney amid elevated bushfire risk and the death of a volunteer firefighter near the NSW-Victoria border.
The fireworks will on Wednesday ring in 2020 despite the closure of popular vantage points and political and community opposition.
The NSW Rural Fire Service granted the fireworks display – seen by one billion people across the world – a total fire ban exemption on Monday evening.
A similar exemption for fireworks at Parramatta Park was not granted.
Temperatures around the state are expected to peak on Tuesday, with forecasts of more than 40C across western Sydney and in regional NSW.
Fire danger ratings for Sydney, Newcastle and the state’s south – where several emergency-level blazes are burning – range from severe to extreme.
Ms Berejiklian on Tuesday told reporters the death of expectant father Samuel McPaul on the Green Valley fire ground at Jingellic – where a “fire tornado” lifted and flipped his fire truck – would cast a pall over festivities.
Mr McPaul is the third volunteer firefighter to die this bushfire season.
“Many of us have mixed feelings about this evening but the important thing we take out of this is that we’re resilient as a state,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“We’re a state that’s optimistic about the future and I don’t want to take a second away from the deep sense of loss and tragedy many people are feeling.
“You can’t think about more difficult circumstances than that.
“But as a state, we always need to think about the future, and given the RFS has said it’s safe for the state to proceed or for the City of Sydney Council to proceed with those activities tonight, that’s what will happen.”
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro had earlier called for Sydney foreshore fireworks to be scrapped and funds redirected to drought and bushfire relief, echoing calls from a petition signed by more than 275,000 people.
“If regional areas have had fireworks banned, then let’s not have two classes of citizens. We’re all in this crisis together,” he said on social media.
A statement to the event’s official website said cancelling the event would seriously hurt Sydney businesses and that organisers had already donated $620,000 to bushfire and drought-affected communities
While the harbour will have fireworks, revellers will be unable to use the forested Balls Head Reserve or Bradleys Head as vantage points due to the fire risk.
The city’s famous celebrations are expected to attract one million people to the harbour foreshore and generate $130 million for the NSW economy.
The RFS has urged residents to shelve any private fireworks plans while police have encouraged revellers to take care in the heat and remain hydrated.
Some 3000 police officers will be on duty around the harbour foreshore.