A new state of emergency was declared on Thursday 2nd January 2020, for the south-east Australian state of New South Wales as even worse fire conditions are expected to hit Saturday.
The state’s premier Gladys Berejiklian said the emergency situation will in New South Wales start Friday and last seven days, giving extra powers to the Rural Fire Service Commissioner to battle the blazes.
These include forced evacuations, road closures and ordering police to carry out certain functions.
A heatwave rolling across the continent from the west is expected to arrive on the south-east coast Saturday, bringing strong winds and temperatures in the mid 40s, the Bureau of Meteorology forecasts.
There are “significant fears” for 17 people who are missing after massive bushfires in Victoria, Australia, the state’s premier said on Thursday.
While state premier Daniel Andrews said it was possible some of those unaccounted for could still be safe, he made clear that authorities were extremely concerned about their welfare, in comments reported by the Australian Associated Press.
Meanwhile, an Australian navy ship arrived at the coastal town of Mallacoota in Victoria on Thursday, which has been cut off since New Years Eve, to rescue thousands of people trapped by fires.
The town has been cut off by fires since Tuesday and 4,000 people fled to the town’s beach to escape the flames.
The ship, HMAS Choules, is carrying much needed food, water and medical supplies and could evacuate up to 1000 people at a time, a defence spokesman said.
The town of around 1,000 residents is a popular holiday spot, which attracts thousands of visitors in summer.
The navy planned to start evacuating 800 people by ship from Mallacoota in the afternoon, authorities said.
With food, fresh water and fuel running out in Mallacoota, Victoria’s fire chief Steve Warrington said they will have to prioritize who stays and who is evacuated on the ship.
Tourists and all non-residents were told to get out of fire zones in Victoria and neighbouring New South Wales as an extreme heatwave is expected to hit and worsen bushfire threats over the weekend.
The fire service in New South Wales declared a “tourist leave zone,” stretching 240 kilometres south of the holiday resort town of Batemans Bay to the border with Victoria.
Conditions were expected to worsen on Saturday when another heatwave sends temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius.
Long lines of vehicles clogged the roads heading north and west from the evacuation zone Thursday morning. Many were unable to leave as petrol stations ran out of fuel or pumps didn’t work due to power outages.
Police escorted petrol tankers to Batemans Bay, but towns further south were still unable to get enough fuel for all people to leave, New South Wales Transport Minister Andrew Constance told the ABC.
Food and water was also running low in many of the coastal communities which have been cut off from the highway since the fires hit Monday and Tuesday, the Rural Fire Service said.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said a heatwave with strong winds will roll over South Australia Thursday before reaching south-east Australia on Saturday.
Rogers said strong westerly winds coming with the heatwave are expected to cause the megafires in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, to flare up and be blown towards communities on the edge of the city.
Meanwhile the smoke from the fires blanketed the nation’s capital Canberra on Thursday with some people forced to wear masks even working inside buildings.
The BOM said the smoke level in Canberra currently makes it the most polluted major city in the world. On Wednesday, the air quality in Canberra was 20 times the level deemed hazardous.
Fires have raged across south-eastern Australia since October. More than 5.36 million hectares across the country has been scorched and more than 1,400 homes destroyed.
The national death toll has risen to at least 17 people, according to the Australian Associated Press, with dozens still missing.