Australian officials ordered people in several communities, including a major tourist destination, to evacuate immediately on Wednesday as firefighters struggled to contain bushfires raging across the country’s east coast, reports Trend referring to Reuters.
While a cool change overnight brought some relief for firefighters in New South Wales (NSW) state, attention shifted to its northern neighbour Queensland, where hot, dry and windy conditions had created a severe fire danger.
Authorities issued a “leave immediately” warning, the highest level, for several areas including Noosa, a popular beachside holiday destination 150 km (93.2 miles) south of Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland.
“Conditions are now very dangerous and firefighters may soon be unable to prevent the fire advancing,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) said in the emergency warning. “The fire may pose a threat to all lives directly in its path.”
QFES has dispatched a waterbombing aircraft to try to help contain the fire.
Bushfires are a common and deadly threat in Australia’s hot, dry summers, but the ferocity and early arrival of this year’s outbreak in the southern hemisphere spring has caught many by surprise. They have so far claimed three lives and destroyed around 2.5 million acres of farmland and bush.
Blazes have been spurred by extremely dry conditions after three years of drought in parts of NSW and Queensland, which experts say has been exacerbated by climate change.
Around 150 fires were burning across both states by mid-afternoon local time.
More than 1.1 million hectares (2.7 million acres) of land have been either burnt or burning, and the hot and windy conditions are set to spike again next week.
“We will not have all these fires contained before then,” NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday morning. “We will not have all these fires contained and locked up for many, many weeks.”
“Unfortunately, what we need is rain. What we need is meaningful rain. And there is certainly nothing in the forecast for the foreseeable future that’s going to make any discernible difference to the conditions that we are experiencing.”
Some 50 homes were destroyed in NSW on Tuesday, when flames came within metres of homes in Greater Sydney amid potentially “catastrophic” high winds and searing heat. But no deaths were reported as warning systems and evacuation plans ahead of what officials said was the greatest threat in at least a decade appeared to save lives.
“It was just chewing up everything,” Karen Weston told Australian Broadcasting Corp of a fire near Taree on the mid-north coast.
“I’ve survived two other bushfires before this but never anything like this,” Weston said from an evacuation centre. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”