Weary firefighting crews and residents have been warned to expect a return to severe bushfire conditions across NSW and Victoria in coming days.
After days of reprieve across fire grounds in both states, there were total fire bans for many areas on Wednesday as hot, windy weather swept across south-eastern Australia.
Fire grounds on the NSW south coast and in Victoria’s Gippsland region have had welcome rainfall in the past week. But the NSW Rural Fire Service warned on Wednesday that forecast high temperatures and winds could bring an increase in fire activity on Thursday.
Temperatures are expected to reach 40 degrees in Nowra on the South Coast, 43 degrees in Penrith in western Sydney, 41 in Cessnock in the Hunter region and 42 in Bulahdelah on the mid-north coast.
NSW RFS spokesman Ben Shepherd said low humidity and strong north-westerly winds had crews bracing a potentially dangerous day.
“There is a broad area of severe and very high fire danger and areas of extreme fire danger,” Mr Shepherd said.
“All fire grounds have received some rainfall and that has greatly reduced some fire activity but we might still see some fire grounds pick up and move tomorrow.”
High temps and strong, gusty winds have elevated the fire danger across much of SA, Vic and NSW today.
Cooler conditions expected on Thursday for SA and Vic but fire danger will peak for NSW with some districts forecast to be extreme.
— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@BOM_au) January 22, 2020
— ACT ESA (@ACT_ESA) January 22, 2020
The elevated risks extend to the ACT, where Emergency Services Commissioner Georgeina Whelan has declared a total fire ban for Thursday.
“The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting hot, windy conditions with temperatures predicted to reach 33 degrees. Areas of dust haze are possible,” her office said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
“The forecast fire danger rating is predicted to reach very high.”
Back in NSW, severe and possible extreme fire danger ratings are expected in Illawarra-Shoalhaven, Southern Highlands, the greater Hunter and the state’s north-west.
Total fire bans were in place on Wednesday in NSW’s south-west, far west and north-west, where the fire danger rating was listed as severe.
“Severe fire danger is forecast. Hot, dry and windy weather will make fires difficult to control,” the NSW RFS said in a tweet on Wednesday afternoon.
“[It is] important that you and your household know what to do if threatened by fire.”
Total fire bans will be in place from midnight tonight for Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter, Illawarra/Shoalhaven, Southern Ranges, Central Ranges & North Western fire areas.
Severe fire danger is forecast.#NSWRFS #NSWFires pic.twitter.com/Pygt2VFdsf
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 22, 2020
The Bureau of Meteorology on Wednesday issued a severe weather warning for damaging winds in parts of the Riverina, Snowy Mountains and far western NSW.
Winds averaging up to 65km/h with gusts of 90km/h were expected on Wednesday afternoon and into the night.
The BOM warned Thursday’s damaging winds might extend to the southern tablelands, the central tablelands, the Illawarra and south coast.
In Victoria, the weather bureau said gusty north to north-westerly winds ahead of a cool change later on Thursday had raised the risk of fires.
Isolated thunderstorms predicted ahead of the change, would bring the risk of dry lightning over north-western Victoria, bureau said.
Fire bans were in place in western Victoria on Wednesday, including Melbourne. Victoria’s west has so far escaped much of the bushfire disasters that have hit the state’s east this summer, but the Mallee – in the far north-west – faced extreme fire danger on Wednesday.
Temperatures across much of the region were expected to hit the mid to high 30s before the cool change arrived.
The warnings come after severe thunderstorms hit Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong on Monday, leaving homes and businesses without power.
Canberra was also hit by a freak hailstorm on Monday that caused widespread damage and has been declared a catastrophe by the Insurance Council of Australia.
More than 60 fires continued to burn across NSW on Tuesday night, with 16 yet to be contained. More than 1100 firefighters were in the field.