Temperatures are expected to rise and strong winds will fan the flames of Australia’s bushfire. The announcement of a state of emergency comes as conditions worsen – the most dangerous in 40 years, according to state officials in Australia.
New South Wales Premier, Barry O’Farrell, has said the declaration will give emergency services additional powers over the next 30 days, including: cutting gas and power supplies if needed and ordering mandatory evacuations."We’re planning for the worst but hoping for the best," he said.
One man has died so far while trying to protect his home – though cause of death is believed to be a heart attack. Hundreds of people have been left homeless by the bushfires. The Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, has been the worst-hit region. The foot of the Blue Mountains lies just across the Nepean River from the suburbs of Sydney. Some embers jumped its banks last Thursday, starting a fire at Castlereagh near Penrith.
Officials have warned that the three main bushfires – one near the town of Lithgow and two in the Blue Mountains – could become one huge fire in the coming days, possibly threatening Sydney.
A fire service spokesman commented: "We can understand the magnitude of that as it would then creep into the bottom end of Sydney. It’s certainly something that we’re very concerned about."
Forecasters are predicting unseasonably hot weather – temperatures reaching 30C (86F) and higher. The heat wave is predicted to peak on Wednesday.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, said: "We’ve got what would be unparalleled in terms of risk and exposure to the Blue Mountains throughout this week. If you are to draw a parallel, and it’s always dangerous to draw a parallel, at best you’d be going back to time periods in the late 60s. The reality is, however, these conditions that we’re looking at are a whole new ball game and in a league of their own," the commissioner said.
An emergency warning was issued for the Blue Mountains village of Bell on Sunday morning. Residents were urged to evacuate or to take shelter and crews are struggling to contain many of the bushfires, including this one in Bell. Fears are growing that the continuing fires could reach Sydney – smoke and ash are currently covering its skyline.
Assistant Police Commissioner, Alan Clarke, said mandatory evacuation orders would be enforced in some areas, describing the risk as "far more extreme" than in past fires. "At the end of the day we hope we have buildings standing, but if we don’t have buildings standing we don’t want bodies in them," he said.
More than 37,000 hectares (91,400 acres) have already been ravaged by fire in the state in the past several days and officials say that 15 blazes remain out of control. Australia’s military is currently investigating whether a training exercise using explosives may have started one of the fires.