The premier of the Australian state of New South Wales on Tuesday declared a state of emergency prompted by extreme bushfires that are predicted to reach “catastrophic” levels.
More than sixty fires are currently raging across New South Wales, the most populous state in Australia. According to the Guardian’s Ben Doherty, 40 of those fires have not yet been brought under control. More than 150 homes have burned since Friday, reports Yuliya Talmazan of NBC News, and three people have died.
National Sportslink gathered that as the deadly bushfires continue to rage, three people have been killed so far, with fires now threatening the city of Sydney. Therefore, the Australian state of New South Wales declared a state of emergency due to ongoing, unprecedented wildfire danger.
New South Wales Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said on Monday that residents were facing “what could be the most dangerous bushfire week [the] nation has ever seen.”
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged people to follow the instructions of the emergency services. “Everybody has to be on alert no matter where you are and everybody has to assume the worst and we cannot allow complacency to creep in,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
Three lives have been lost in the state and more than 150 homes destroyed, with thousands of people displaced or forced to evacuate. The fires have razed 8,500 square kilometers (3,300 square miles) of forest and farmland since Friday.
The declaration of emergency will last for a week. Emergency services are granted sweeping powers to instruct government agencies to conduct or refrain from normal duties.
There are fears that Sydney could be threatened in the coming days. “There is nothing built or designed to withstand the sorts of conditions that you can expect under catastrophic conditions,” said Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the rural fire service for New South Wales, on Monday.
According to Damien Cave of the New York Times, moisture levels of live trees and shrubs around Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, have fallen lower than they were in 2001 when the devastating “Black Christmas Fires” burned for nearly three weeks across the state. Even fire officials are shocked by the severity of the current blazes.
“I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been in this industry for 40 years and I have not seen a scenario like this before,” Rural Fire Service (RFS) Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I really haven’t.”
“Catastrophic” is Australia’s highest fire danger designation, and the RFS advises that “leaving early is the only option” for survival. New South Wales police cautioned that fires “may start and spread so quickly there is little time for a warning, so do not wait and see. There are simply not enough fire trucks for every house. If you call for help, you may not get it.”
Some 600 schools across New South Wales closed on Tuesday because of the fire threat, and the RFS is publishing a list of safe areas where residents can take refuge. The state of emergency declaration is due to remain in place for seven days. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian noted that the declaration is a “precautionary stance,” but she advised residents to remain on high alert.
“If you’re told to evacuate, please do so. If you’re told to take certain actions, please do so,” Berejiklian said, “And for heaven’s sake, stay away from bushland tomorrow.”
The areas that have been hit hard by wildfires have been grappling with long-standing drought, according to Cave of the Times. Leaves and branches are dry, which provides ample kindling for blazes, and strong winds have exacerbated the disaster.
Though some Australian politicians have pushed back against attempts to link the current bushfires to climate change, scientists say the connections are clear. Rising temperatures dry out forest soils, and because spring is creeping early, conditions stay drier for longer. This in itself boosts wildfire risks, but temperatures spikes also make forests susceptible to infestations by insects that thrive in warm weather. These pests kill trees and brush, drying them out and making it easier for them to catch fire.
Sydney, Australia’s largest city, has a population of over 5 million people and has so far not been affected by the blazes.