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Dozens of bushfires burn out of control in NSW and Queensland as temperatures soar Scores of bushfires burn out of control in NSW and Queensland as temperatures soar
(about 3 hours later)
Hot and windy weather has created volatile conditions along parts of Australia’s east coastHot and windy weather has created volatile conditions along parts of Australia’s east coast
New South Wales is in uncharted territory as bushfires burn across the state with a record 15 “emergency warnings” issued for blazes from the Blue Mountains to the Queensland border. Parts of Australia faced an unprecedented bushfire threat on Friday evening as more than 100 blazes burned across coastal New South Wales and Queensland.
Residents are also being evacuated in parts of Queensland, where dozens more fires are burning and temperatures have soared. Communities on NSW’s mid-north coast and the far north coast were battling the worst of the conditions, which were described by authorities as “uncharted territory” and that led to a dramatic, orange-red glow descending on the fire-threatened city of Port Macquarie.
More than 90 fires are burning on Friday afternoon in NSW with conditions expected to worsen, NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. Across drought-stricken NSW, a record 17 “emergency warnings” were in place for more than 90 blazes that stretched from the Blue Mountains to the border with Queensland, where about 50 fires had also burned throughout Friday.
“It’s a very dynamic, it’s a very volatile and it’s a very dangerous set of circumstances that we’re experiencing,” he told ABC TV. “We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level,” the NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, told the ABC. “We are in uncharted territory.”
The RFS tweeted after 4pm: “A number of fires in the north coast and northern NSW areas are becoming more intense - and more dangerous. Some are creating their own weather conditions.” At 4pm, the NSW RFS said: “A number of fires in the north coast and northern NSW areas are becoming more intense and more dangerous. Some are creating their own weather conditions.”
The skies around the NSW north coast town of Port Macquarie turned a dramatic shade of orange on Friday amid the unfolding emergency. By Friday evening, authorities confirmed the destruction of at least two homes on NSW’s far north coast region but that number was expected to rise as residents returned to inspect their properties. Minor injuries were reported to fire fighters and residents, Fitzsimmons said.
MidCoast Council mayor David West is anguished as residents face dangerous conditions near Taree. The ABC reported that fire crews were responding to calls from residents trapped in their homes. A spokesman told the Guardian it was too late for residents to leave in some locations, and that authorities could no longer guarantee crews could reach all homes.
“From my personal perspective, it’s horrifying,” he said. Fitzsimmons said aerial footage showed “widespread property damage and destruction, right across multiple fire grounds”.
“I’ve never felt a sense of anguish that I do now, the fear for my community.” In Port Macquarie, a city of 45,000 people on the NSW mid north coast, a red haze that engulfed the area was described as “apocalyptic”. As fire fighters battled hot and windy conditions, locals in some pockets of the town were evacuated, while sections of the Pacific Highway and some schools were closed.
There are 15 emergency warnings current in NSW for fires stretching from just north of Forster to west of Tenterfield near the Queensland border. Residents in Tenterfield, Armidale, Clarence Valley, Port Macquarie, Nambucca, Kempsey and other mid-coast areas were warned that their lives were at risk and urged to take action to protect themselves.
The worst fires are at: Hillville, Crowdy Bay National Park, Tapin Tops National Park, Port Macquarie, Willi Willi, the Mistake State Forest in Nambucca and surrounds, Tyringham, Wandsworth, Carrai Creek, Chaelundi, Woodford, Stockyard Flat and Torrington. “From my personal perspective, it’s horrifying,” said the MidCoast council mayor, David West, of the threat to Taree, about 80km south of Port Macquarie.
In total there are 89 bushfires burning across the state. There are nine watch and act alerts in place. Describing the conditions as “unprecedented”, West added: “I’ve never felt a sense of anguish that I do now, the fear for my community.”
“Unfortunately we are in uncharted territory this afternoon - we’ve never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level,” Fitzsimmons told ABC TV. In Queensland, two emergency warnings were declared and fires threatened small communities in Scenic Rim, about 80km west of Brisbane, and at Tewantin and Cooroibah on the Sunshine Coast.
An out-of-control fire burning near Hillville, south of Taree, crossed the Pacific Highway as it spread quickly. Authorities said they would evacuate hundreds of residents in parts of Tewantin, a suburb of the popular holiday spot Noosa, and said they would look to clear the entire town if the threat escalated.
The highway is closed in both directions between Taree and Bulahdelah. The Pacific Highway is also closed at Port Macquarie between the Oxley Highway and Hastings River Drive. Earlier on Friday, Fitzsimmons said bush and grass fires were burning through about 370,000 hectares of land in New South Wales. That was more than the entire land area burned last year.
“It (the Hillville fire) moving toward the coast at a fairly rapid rate,” West said. The Bureau of Meteorology said a cool change should blow through fire-affected areas in New South Wales, which they hoped would improve fire-fighting conditions.
“The area that I live in hasn’t been burned in about 30 years. There’s a huge amount of fuel load.” “This change is likely to be quite vigorous,” said Dean Sgarbossa of the Bureau of Meteorology. “This is particularly dangerous for fires, it can change the direction and elongate them and shift them.”
A number of schools were closed in the area due to the bushfires.
MidCoast council’s deputy mayor, Claire Pontin, who lives in nearby Hallidays Point, said the area was “tinder dry”.
“It’s just crispy,” she said. “In places you can hear the leaves crunching under your feet.”
Earlier on Friday Fitzsimmons said two homes had been damaged or destroyed in the fire burning at Stockyard Flat near Walcha. Assessors were yet to reach the site.
Fitzsimmons said bush and grass fires were burning through about 370,000 hectares of NSW land – more than the entire land area burned last year. Dust is expected to be blown across much of the state’s northeast on Friday with the central coast and Newcastle areas the worst affected.
The fire danger should lessen over the weekend, although threat levels were forecast to rise again on Tuesday or Wednesday next week, Fitzsimmons said.The fire danger should lessen over the weekend, although threat levels were forecast to rise again on Tuesday or Wednesday next week, Fitzsimmons said.
Extreme fire warnings in Queensland Western Australians were also warned that significant bushfires were likely at the weekend as forecasters predicted the mercury would hit 40C on Saturday.
Residents are being evacuated from the path of a raging bushfire north of Noosa, as dozens more burn across Queensland amid dangerous conditions. On Friday, WA’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services downgraded a bushfire that ravaged through 400 hectares of land north of Perth that morning.
Police have declared a blaze that is threatening homes at Cooroibah on Friday afternoon an emergency and are urging residents to get out. But they warned the out-of-control fire still posed a possible threat to lives and homes.
People in the path of a large, unpredictable and fast-moving bushfire in the Scenic Rim were also being urged to leave before it is too late.
Residents in Buccan, south of Brisbane, as well as Thornton, Clumber and Lower Beechmont were told to prepare to leave as separate fires burn.
The Thornton blaze has split into two separate fires travelling in different directions.
Conditions are challenging because the fire is burning in steep, rugged country.
Belts of parched land and withered bush across Queensland are raising the risk of bushfire.
Authorities said more than 40 fires were burning across the state on Friday afternoon with dry, windy and dangerous conditions.
“Today will be the peak of the worst fire dangers and conditions will ease tomorrow,” meteorologist Jess Gardner said.
“They will remain quite challenging as we continue to see a very, very dry air mass and some fairly fresh winds.”
Extreme fire warnings are in place from the Gold Coast to the Sunshine Coast, inland to Toowoomba and then out towards Dalby, Miles and Goondiwindi.
A fire ban is in place for the Toowoomba and Southern Downs Regional Council areas.
Another area of concern is Teewah, north of Noosa, where firefighters have contained a fire but warn it could again flare up.
Severe warnings have also been issued for the area between Gympie and Bundaberg, out to Taroom, Emerald and west to Charleville.
The air is dry, the temperature is hot and strong winds are expected to sweep through areas shrivelled by a lack of rain.
“On top of the current weather, we’ve had stress on the plants, we’ve got a lot of what’s called curing, a lot of the grass is already brown,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services superintendent James Haig said.
“What I’m saying is, the drought conditions, the long-term dry conditions, the lack of rainfall, have exacerbated the bushfire conditions.”
Wind gusts of up to 80km/h are expected Friday afternoon as a low-pressure trough sweeps across the southeast.