(Bloomberg) -- Firefighters are bracing for an intensification of catastrophic wildfires sweeping southeastern Australia amid searing temperatures and strong winds.
Emergencies have been declared and tourists have been urged to flee a 350-kilometer (217-mile) stretch of coastline in New South Wales and Victoria states as temperatures climb as high as 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) inland Saturday. Hot, dry winds have brought “extremely dangerous” conditions, intensifying wildfires and sparking blazes.
Two people died in wildfires on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, adding to the death toll, which stood at 20 on Friday.
“Today is all about saving lives,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney Saturday. “There are still windows for people to get out if you wish to do so.”
Fires that have been burning since Dec. 20 on Kangaroo Island, off the South Australian coast, overran a car killing its occupants, the state’s assistant police commissioner Linda Williams told reporters in Adelaide Saturday.
More than 500 people are battling blazes across the island, a prominent tourist destination, scorching much of the Flinders Chase National Park and devastating wildlife. Improved weather conditions Saturday are helping to bring the infernos under control, said Mark Jones, chief of the Country Fire Service.
Tens of thousands of people in New South Wales have altered their travel plans or relocated because of the warnings, Berejiklian said. Across Victoria, about 100,000 people have been urged to evacuate amid concerns that blazes could be unstoppable, ABC reported.
Convoys of vehicles have departed fire-ravaged areas, and navy ships have carried hundreds of people to safety in eastern Victoria state, one of the largest peacetime evacuations in Australia’s history.
About 60 of the 137 grass and bush-land fires in New South Wales are burning out of control, Berejiklian said. Winds from the west and northwest will reach speeds of as much as 90 kilometers an hour, the state’s Rural Fire Service said, potentially fanning the flames and spreading embers, igniting new blazes.
Flare Up Risk
“Strong, dry northwesterly winds will cause ongoing fires to flare up yet again threatening communities that have already experienced widespread devastation,” said Jonathan How, a weather forecaster with the Bureau of Meteorology.
More than 12 million acres (5 million hectares) have been blackened -- an area about twice the size of Vermont -- in hundreds of blazes in recent months. That’s bringing terrifying scenes of walls of fire that have killed about half a billion native animals and destroyed hundreds of homes.
Gusty winds of up to 80 kilometers an hour will probably reach Victoria’s southern region of Gippsland by midday Saturday in a cooling, southerly change that should arrive in Sydney in the late evening, the weather bureau said.
Still, it won’t diminish the fire risk since a change in wind direction will cause the flank of wildfires to become the new front, “greatly broadening the fire threat area,” How said. In addition, thunderstorms and lightening could start more fires.
Australia’s electricity grid operator warned that blazes may bring down vital transmission lines and raise the likelihood of outages, days after wildfires and winds damaged power lines and forced blackouts for tens of thousands of households in fire-affected towns in the nation’s southeast.
Insurers have already received 5,250 claims as a result of the catastrophe, with losses estimated at A$321 million ($223 million), the Insurance Council of Australia said Friday.
(Adds Kangaroo Island deaths in third and fifth paragraphs.)
To contact the reporter on this story: Jason Gale in Melbourne at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Shamim Adam at email@example.com, Siraj Datoo
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.