Australia battles ‘catastrophic’ wildfires as PM rushes home

A firefighter on property protection watches the progress of bushfires in Old Bar, New South Wales, Australia. (File photo: Reuters)

Australia’s most populous state was paralyzed by “catastrophic” fire conditions Saturday amid souring temperatures, while one person died as wildfires also ravaged the country’s southeast.

“Catastrophic fire conditions are as bad as it gets,” New South Wales Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters. “Given we have a landscape with so much active fire burning, you have a recipe for very serious concern and a very dangerous day.”

Areas in western Sydney were forecast to hit 47 degrees Celsius (115 Fahrenheit). A cooling change was expected to move through New South Wales late Saturday although authorities warned that strong winds could push fires in dangerous new directions.

New South Wales is in a seven-day state of emergency as around 2,000 firefighters battle 100 wildfires.

The devastation has put pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has copped criticism for going on a family holiday in Hawaii during the wildfire crisis. He apologized on Friday for “any offence caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time”.

Morrison said he would cut short his vacation and was expected to return to Sydney on Saturday, where he is due to visit the Rural Fire Service headquarters.

Protesters on Thursday camped outside Morrison’s Sydney residence demanding urgent action on climate change.

Morrison, who critics have deemed a climate change skeptic, conceded earlier this month that “climate change along with many other factors” contributed to the wildfires.

Casualties reported

Two firefighters died Thursday battling blazes southwest of Sydney. Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, were in a truck convoy southwest of Sydney when a tree fell and caused the vehicle to roll off the road.

Authorities confirmed Saturday one person died and 15 homes were destroyed in South Australia as a wildfire ravaged the Adelaide Hills on Friday, just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the state capital of Adelaide. Another person was critically injured after fighting to save his home from the fires.

It follows the death of a 24-year-old man in a road crash in South Australia on Friday, which sparked a fire in the area of the Murraylands.

Authorities said 23 firefighters and several police have also suffered injuries, as more than 40,000 hectares (98,842 acres) burnt across South Australia.

“It is going to be a real scene of devastation, especially for those people in the Adelaide Hills who have been most affected,” South Australia Premier Steven Marshall said.

“We know that in addition to the buildings and vehicles lost there are very significant losses in terms of livestock, animals, crops, vineyards.”

SHOW MORE
Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 14:06 - GMT 11:06
Top