Australia fires: New South Wales, Queensland declare emergency

Nov. 11 (UPI) — Two Australian states have declared a state of emergency due to wildfires that have already killed at least three people and pose a “catastrophic” threat.

More than 60 fires are burning in New South Wales and at least 45 in Queensland and both states declared states of emergency Monday. The deadly fires are expected to become more dangerous Monday and Tuesday, with high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity in the region.

At least 150 homes have been destroyed since Friday and more properties are threatened. Authorities said New South Wales residents in the immediate path of the blaze should evacuate now or they “may not get help” on Tuesday.

“Catastrophic is the highest level of bush fire danger,” the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said. “Homes are not designed to withstand a fire under these conditions.”

A total fire ban has been issued for the state through Tuesday.

Monday is the first time a “catastrophic” warning has been issued in Australia since the fire danger ratings were introduced in 2009.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised firefighters, volunteers and community members for helping contain what’s been called “unprecedented” fire danger.

“There is a long way to go and Tuesday is looking more difficult,” Morrison said. “And that is not only trickier in New South Wales, we know of similar types of conditions that we are seeing in Western Australia on Tuesday as well.”

Glenn Innes Mayor Carol Sparks wrote a scathing op-ed in The Guardian about the dangers of ignoring climate change. She has family members in the hospital and two of the dead are from her city.

“The anger is real. The anger is justified. Because this disaster was all foreseen and predicted,” Sparks wrote. “For decades the link between a hotter, drier climate, land clearing excessive irrigation and increased fire risk have all been attested in scientific papers. Equally for decades there have been those who insist they know better. Their ignorance and arrogance have delivered us only ashes — let these now be swept away.”

Resident Chrystal Harwood said her mother was one of those who died.

“She was in absolute panic,” she said. “Before I even got to tell her to just get out, she’d hung up on me.”

Nearly 5,000 homes have been evacuated in Queensland in the past two days. The Australian fire season started early this year and there’s not expected to be any relief over the Southern Hemisphere summer.

“The forecast for the balance of the season continues to be driven by above-normal temperatures (and) below-average rainfall to dominate over the coming months,” fire official Shane Fitzsimmons said.

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