‘Too late’ for people to leave homes as Oz bushfires rage

Australians are being warned it is too late to leave their homes as bushfires rage across the country’s east coast amid strong winds and fierce temperatures.

Some 78 fires are burning in the state of New South Wales (NSW), with more than half of them uncontained or out of control.

Fourteen emergency warnings are in place, meaning that people are in urgent danger and must take emergency action.

Firefighters proceed to dose bush fire at the Woodford residential area in Blue Mountains on November 12, 2019
Image: The Blue Mountains is among the areas affected in the eastern state

“Complacency kills – we cannot afford for people to be complacent,” said New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

The fires have ripped through more than one million hectares (3,800 square miles) since Friday, killing three people and damaging more than 150 homes.

More than 100 people, including 20 firefighters, have been treated for fire-related injuries.

On Tuesday, at least three more properties were ruined by a blaze at Hillville, south of Taree, which is one of the areas covered by the emergency warnings.

More than 3,000 firefighters are tackling the blazes or preparing to do so – some from other Australian states and New Zealand – supported by around 60 aircraft.

All regions of Sydney, the state’s main city, have hazardous air quality, with the state’s ambulance service saying it has responded to dozens of calls from those suffering from respiratory conditions worsened by the smoke.

Residents try to knock down spot fires, from a bushfire, heading towards a house on a property at Koorainghat, near Taree in the Mid North Coast region of NSW, Australia, November 12, 2019
Image: Residents in some places have been told it is too late to leave their homes

Officials had known Tuesday was going to be an extremely difficult day.

On Monday they confirmed that parts of NSW would face a fire risk deemed “catastrophic” – a rating not used in the state since the fire danger ratings were introduced a decade ago.

Temperatures are expected to reach the high 30s in some places, combining with winds of up to 56mph.

“The reality is conditions will simply continue to get worse and deteriorate over the coming hours and particularly this afternoon,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.

“We plan for these sorts of days. But we always hope they never come.”

A Gloucester fire crew member fights flames from a bushfire at Koorainghat, near Taree in the Mid North Coast region of NSW, Australia, November 12, 2019
Image: A firefighter works on flames at Koorainghat, near Taree in New South Wales

There are also more than 50 fires burning in the state of Queensland to the north.

Both states have declared states of emergency, which allow their fire services to direct government agencies as needed.

Smoke engulfs a property following the spread of bushfires in Queensland, Australia, November 11, 2019. Picture taken November 11, 2019. Pic: Queensland Fire and Emergency Services
Image: Smoke engulfs a property in Queensland. Pic: Queensland Fire and Emergency Services

In Queensland, more than 1,000 firefighters and 40 aircraft are fighting the flames but, despite their efforts, 12 homes have been destroyed.

The state’s premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was especially grateful to the 110 firefighters coming from Tasmania, Northern Territory and New Zealand.

“We know when we go through a national crisis, everybody helps out and we do the same.”

An aerial view in black and white shows the spread of bushfires (L) in Queensland, Australia, November 11, 2019. Picture taken November 11, 2019. Pic: Queensland Fire and Emergency Services
Image: An aerial view in black and white shows the spread of bushfires in Queensland. Pic: Queensland Fire and Emergency Services

The Bureau of Meteorology said temperatures in some parts of the state would be up to 8C above average with particularly severe conditions in the south east.

Fire and emergency services acting commissioner Mike Wassing added: “This is a long haul, this is a marathon for us with sprints in between.”

The worst fires in Australia were in 2009, killing 173 people and injuring 414 in Victoria.

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