Tags: Climate Change | Global Warming | wildfires | wind | heat | thunderstorms | australia

Wind, Thunderstorms Worsen Australia Wildfires

Officials block the Princes Highway as wildfires approach in South Coast, New South Wales Australia
Officials block the Princes Highway as wildfires approach in South Coast, New South Wales Australia. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 9, Channel 7/AP)

Saturday, 04 January 2020 04:48 PM

Firefighters are battling an intensification of catastrophic wildfires sweeping southeastern Australia amid searing temperatures and strong winds.

Penrith, on the outskirts of Sydney, reached a record 120 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, symbolic of the dangerous weather conditions that have fanned ferocious flames and sparked new blazes. Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an unprecedented level of military support to support firefighting and recovery efforts as the national death toll from four months of infernos rose to 23.

Emergencies have been declared and tourists have been urged to flee a 217-mile stretch of coastline in New South Wales and Victoria states. Two people died in wildfires on South Australia's Kangaroo Island, police said.

"Our country is facing devastating and widespread national bushfires," Morrison told reporters in Canberra. "They have been burning throughout the country for months now, but today is shaping up as our most challenging day, with a state of emergency declared in New South Wales and Victoria, while Tasmania and South Australia also face significant threats."

Some 148 wildfires are burning in New South Wales, mostly in the state's southeastern quadrant, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney. A dozen blazes have prompted "emergency" warnings.

Wind gusts of as much as 80 kilometers an hour are predicted to reach fire-afflicted areas late Saturday, potentially fanning the inferno. Thunderstorm activity is adding to the threat.

"We are in for a long night," Berejiklian said. "We are yet to hit the worst of it."

No deaths have been recorded in the state Saturday because of the blazes, which are being fought by thousands of firefighters, she said, adding the situation is "volatile."

Victoria issued 16 emergency warnings across the state's northeast. Tasmania reported four brush fires in the northeastern area of Fingal posing a heightened level of threat.

While no wildfires have been reported in the Australian Capital Territory, windy conditions and record-high temperatures – reaching 43.5 degrees Celsius in Canberra – make it "a day of extreme fire danger," Chief Minister Andrew Barr told a separate media briefing.

Conditions are deteriorating across New South Wales, prompting warnings for communities on the South Coast, the Snowy Mountains, and Sydney's doorstep to take shelter, ABC reported. Fires encroaching on highways have prompted advice to affected residents that it is too late to leave.

Victoria's Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville identified the second person to die in the state's fires as a timber worker from Maramingo Creek, in East Gippsland. There are 21 people missing in the state, seven fewer than the number unaccounted for 24 hours earlier, the ABC reported, citing Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton.

Australia will ramp up its response to the country's wildfire disaster, deploying additional army, naval and aircraft services, Morrison told a televised media briefing.

As many as 3,000 army reserve personnel will be called out to support firefighters in an unprecedented response to a natural disaster, while HMAS Adelaide, the Royal Australian Navy's largest amphibious ship, will sail from Sydney on Saturday afternoon, joining two other naval vessels in assisting with evacuation efforts, Morrison said.

Additional defense measures outlined Saturday include deploying three Chinook helicopters, spending of A$20 million ($14 million) to lease four extra water-bombing aircraft and the establishment of a national recovery agency.

The scale-up will be aimed at saving lives, supporting the evacuation of affected people and assisting isolated communities, and aiding state-managed evacuation centers, Morrison said.

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Catastrophic wildfires sweeping southeastern Australia amid searing temperatures and strong winds are intensifying for firefighters.
wildfires, wind, heat, thunderstorms, australia, national emergency
Saturday, 04 January 2020 04:48 PM
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