Australia braced for another week of devastating bushfires

Greater Sydney area facing ‘catastrophic’ threat, say emergency services

A  helicopter works to contain a bushfire along Old Bar road in Old Bar, New South Wales, Australia. Photograph: Shane Chalker/AAP/Reuters

A helicopter works to contain a bushfire along Old Bar road in Old Bar, New South Wales, Australia. Photograph: Shane Chalker/AAP/Reuters

 

Australia is bracing for another week of devastating bushfires with emergency services saying the greater Sydney area is facing a “catastrophic” threat.

It is the first time authorities have set the warning level for Australia’s largest city at maximum since the fire-danger rating system was introduced a decade ago. In recent days three people were killed and more than 150 homes destroyed in the state of New South Wales as an unprecedented series of fires ripped through areas rendered exceptionally dry after a two-year drought.

While cooler weather eased some of the immediate pressure on Sunday, authorities expect the situation to deteriorate on Tuesday as hot and windy conditions sweep through the state.

“Weather conditions are looking dire,” New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a press conference on Sunday. “We are bracing ourselves.”

With over 60 fires already burning across the state, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service warned that it would not be able to contain them all before the weather worsened. By Tuesday, it expects a broad swathe of the state to be facing an extreme fire risk, including the outskirts of Sydney.

The fires, which are of unprecedented severity particularly this early in the season, come amid increasing divisions about climate change policy.

Visiting affected areas on Sunday, prime minister Scott Morrison again sidestepped questions about the role of climate change, saying his focus was on getting immediate assistance to those in need.

Morrison, a staunch supporter of the coal mining industry, said earlier this month his government is considering how it can ban activists from pressuring companies not to do business with the mining industry and other sectors with a large carbon footprint.

His refusal to link the fires with climate change was sharply criticised by the Australian Greens party, which has accused the government of being in denial.

“Thoughts and sympathies are not enough,” party leader Richard Di Natale said in a statement.

“We need to anticipate and prepare for these emergencies, but we also need to go to the root cause which is the burning of fossil fuels that is dangerously heating our planet. Our government has its head in the sand.”

Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent and is considered one of the most vulnerable developed countries to climate change. The nation gets the bulk of its energy from burning coal, a fuel that last year was also its largest export earner. – Bloomberg