Australian State Declares Wildfire Emergency as Weather WorsensMichael Heath
Australia’s most populous state declared a wildfire emergency as temperatures are predicted to rise and winds strengthen, fanning flames across New South Wales.
State Premier Barry O’Farrell signed the order today after consulting with the police minister, and appointed the Rural Fire Service commissioner to control and coordinate the emergency declaration.
“This is not an action taken lightly,” O’Farrell said in a statement. “But it’s important the Rural Fire Service and other emergency services have the powers and the resources they need to combat this threat.”
Firefighters battling more than 60 blazes, including about 15 that are uncontained, are bracing for renewed wild weather across the state. Australia’s bushfire season has started early after the warmest September on record, and the intensified warnings reflect receding chances of rain to douse flames engulfing swathes of the Blue Mountains region about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Sydney.
“The RFS commissioner has advised weather conditions over the next few days will deteriorate significantly and that there is potential for a significant and widespread danger to life and property across the state,” O’Farrell said in the statement. “We are planning for the worst but hoping for the best.”
The government said the declaration will give emergency services personnel the power to direct the public to evacuate an area; order power and gas supplies to be shut off; and shore up or pull down buildings.
More than 2,000 firefighters are battling blazes and have conducted backburning operations in the past two days, taking advantage of a lull in the weather.
“These conditions are a whole new ballgame,” RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters earlier today. “The predictive charts indicate there will be a significant impact on populated areas should all these forecasts materialize as is being suggested.”
A hospital in the Blue Mountains town of Springwood was evacuated yesterday, with 24 patients transferred to the city.
About 200 firefighters from interstate are reinforcing crews in NSW.
Police charged two girls aged 12 and 13 with lighting a fire in Sydney’s west two days ago. Firefighters were able to extinguish the small blaze. The girls will appear in a Children’s Court on Dec. 4, police said in a statement.
A 63-year-old man died protecting his home from a fire at Lake Munmorah on the NSW Central Coast, about 110 kilometers north of Sydney on Oct. 17, NSW police said in a statement.
The fires have destroyed a total of 208 homes and damaged another 122, the fire service said.
Wildfires are a regular feature of Australia’s warmer months. In February 2009, bushfires across Victoria state killed 173 people and destroyed 150 homes in the worst blazes in Australian history.