Bushfires reached within miles of Sydney’s city centre Tuesday prompting firefighting planes to spray red retardant over trees and houses in a northern suburb.
Authorities said they had one fire in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, under control though another one was out of control.
Aerial footage showed flames burning through a eucalypt forest in Turramurra on Sydney’s north shore, around 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the centre of the city.
Firefighters were deployed in the area to protect houses.
"The fire is spreading quickly," New South Wales Rural Fire Service warned residents. "Properties are under threat."
There were no immediate reports of properties in the area being burnt.
‘Catastrophic bush fires’
A ‘catastrophic’ fire warning was issued for the Sydney, Illawarra and Hunter areas, which includes the Blue Mountains and the Central Coast.
There are 85 fires in New South Wales, 46 are thought to be out of control and 14 are at an "emergency level".
There are now more than 3,000 firefighters are on the ground, supported by 60 aircraft.
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The New South Wales government has declared a state of emergency for seven days, and more than 575 schools and TAFE campuses have been closed. More than 150 homes have been destroyed, three people have died, and two firefighters were seriously injured by a falling tree.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, told a media conference: “We are starting to see an increase in the wind speeds, especially in the ranges.
New South Wales fire danger ratings
!We are expecting those to continue to strengthen from 10 to 11 o’clock late morning… Now is the time to exercise those decisions to leave, leave early and go to safer locations, safer towns or safer places in your community such as shopping centres.”
Several regions of eastern New South Wales had a ‘catastrophic’ fire danger warning applied on Tuesday, including Greater Sydney.
The Bureau of Meteorology forecast temperatures in the high 30s, with winds up to 65km per hour in some parts, across the danger areas.
The scale and severity of the fires has led to a war of words between local authorities and fire-fighting experts calling for action on climate change, and a Federal Government that has presided over a rise in carbon emissions.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack claimed it was “disgusting” the people were linking the fires to climate change.
He said victims of the fire “don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time”.
Carol Sparks, the Mayor of Glen Innes, where two people died on the weekend as a result of the fires, said the Deputy Prime Minister “needs to read the science”.
“That is what I am going by, is the science… It is not a political thing — it is a scientific fact that we are going through climate change,” she told local media.
New South Wales active fires in past 72 hours
Mid Coast Mayor Claire Pontin told local media that the Federal Government needs “to get out and have a real look at what’s happening to this country”.
“We’ve not had situations like that. Fifty years ago, this would never happen… We don’t have capital city greenies around here, we have farmers coming to us and saying, ‘look what’s happened to my farm, I can’t afford to feed the cows anymore because I’ve been buying feed for the last 18 months’,” she said.
In April, 23 former chiefs and deputy chiefs of fire and emergency services across Australia said the country was unprepared for worsening natural disasters from climate change and government inaction was putting lives at risk.
In a statement issued before a Federal Election date was announced, the group called on both major parties to recognise the need for “national firefighting assets”, including large aircraft, to deal with the scale of the threat.
The statement called on the next prime minister to meet former emergency service leaders “who will outline, unconstrained by their former employers, how climate change risks are rapidly escalating”.
The group also wanted the next government to commit to an inquiry into whether Australia’s emergency services are adequately resourced to deal with increased risks from natural disasters caused by climate change.
In June, the New South Wales firefighters union said the state government had cut the capital budget of Fire and Rescue NSW by 35.4 per cent, and that in addition there were $12.9 million dollars of cuts in expenses.
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that Australia’s bushfire season is growing longer and more intense because of climate change.
The Bureau of Meteorology stated in a 2018 report that climate change has seen an increase in extreme heat events and in the severity of natural disasters, including drought.
In the past four months, northern New South Wales and southern Queensland has experienced a historically severe drought.
"There has been a long-term increase in extreme fire weather and in the length of the fire season across large parts of Australia since the 1950s … Climate change, including increasing temperatures, is contributing to these changes," the report said.