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“Lives and homes are in danger,” authorities warned as Australia’s largest city faces the highest level of fire alert ever issued.
Residents of the Sydney area were preparing Monday, November 11, to face a “catastrophic” situation due to the risk of an upsurge in fires that prompted the authorities to declare a state of alert.
For the first time, Australia’s largest city and its surroundings are facing the highest level of fire alert ever issued. The authorities have warned that “lives and homes will be in danger”.
“Nothing is built or designed to withstand the kind of catastrophic situation that can be expected,” said Shane Fitzsimmons, Fire Chief of the State of New South Wales (South East), which includes Sydney.
High temperatures and strong winds, expected on Tuesday, are expected to fan the flames, which led the Prime Minister of the state, Gladys Berejiklian, to declare a state of emergency for seven days.
A cloud of toxic smoke
Dozens of uncontrolled fires in the north of the state have killed three people since Friday, destroyed more than 150 homes and forced thousands of people to flee. In recent months, approximately 11,000 square kilometres have been burned, according to the New South Wales Fire Department.
The situation had calmed down on Monday and some residents were able to return home. However, a cloud of toxic smoke persisted in the areas affected by these bushfires.
On Tuesday, the most affected areas are expected to be the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, the Hunter Wine Valley to the north and the Illawarra area to the south of the city. In the town of Rainbow Flat, north of Sydney, emergency services were busy Monday cutting tree branches and reopening roads to evacuate livestock from areas that could be devastated by bushfires.
Some regions, already affected by the fires of recent days, are preparing to face this new threat. In the coastal towns of Old Bar, north of Sydney, firefighters were back to burn pockets that had previously been spared by the fires. “We’re burning them so that they won’t be a threat in the next few days,” said Brett Slavin, a firefighter.
A dramatic season beginning
Such fires occur annually on the huge island continent during spring and summer in Australia. If this start of the season is dramatic, scientists are worried about the coming months. According to them, climate change and weather cycles generate high temperatures, strong winds and drought.
According to Paul Read, an expert from Monash University, this year the fires were “much earlier than usual and it will get worse as summer approaches. In addition to the life-threatening nature of these fires, it highlights the health risks of the toxic smoke clouds they produce:
“An air quality index above 300 is considered dangerous for everyone, not just vulnerable people. » According to him, this level has already been exceeded in many places, including Sydney. The presence of toxic smoke clouds has been reported as far as New Caledonia, almost 1,500 kilometres across the sea.