Heatwave prompts Australian state to declare state of emergency

19, Dec. 2019

(The Sydney Opera house is barely visible, covered in a cloud of smoke on Dec. 19) [Getty/Kyodo]
(The Sydney Opera house is barely visible, covered in a cloud of smoke on Dec. 19) [Getty/Kyodo]

SYDNEY, Kyodo - For the second time in just over a month, the premier of Australia's most populous state declared a state of emergency on Thursday as a heatwave and strong winds bring "extreme" fire conditions to greater Sydney.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she made the decision to declare the seven-day state of emergency on the advice of Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

"The biggest concern over the next few days is the unpredictability, with extreme wind conditions, extremely hot temperatures," she told a press conference in the state capital Sydney.

Under the state of emergency, Fitzsimmons is granted increased powers including the ability to control and coordinate the allocation of government resources and shut down essential utilities if necessary.

Currently, there are more than 100 fires burning across New South Wales, with roughly 2.7 million hectares of bushland having been burned so far.

Greater Sydney is threatened by an especially large fire, which was dubbed the "mega-fire" after three separate bushfires merged, roughly 70 kilometers to the city's northwest. Large fires also burn in the city's west in the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains area.

Fitzsimmons said that while fire conditions on Thursday are "very bad," Saturday is predicted to be even worse.

"We can expect the winds to be up and conditions to be at their peak very early in the morning and we'll have high sustained fire dangers for something like 15 hours," he said.

Firefighters from the United States, Canada and New Zealand who had previously been brought in continue to assist their Australian counterparts.

A statewide ban on fires is already in force in New South Wales and will continue until midnight Saturday. (Kyodo)