Bushfires raging across 217-miles in New South Wales could merge to form one “mega-blaze”, a fire chief warned today.
Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons fears his teams would be facing the worst blaze ever if the two main fronts of the fires join. The area stretches from the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney. Hundreds of houses have already been destroyed, and disaster welfare centres have been set up for those made homeless.
Of the 60 fires active a dozen are still out of control. State premier Barry O’Farrell announced emergency laws which allow fire chiefs and police to force people to leave their homes if they come under threat.
It came as fire crews faced temperatures soaring into the mid-30s C. Strong winds are predicted to get worse by Wednesday. Mr Fitzsimmons said: “I don’t think I’ve ever used the word mega-fire.
“But the reality is that the modelling indicates that there’s every likelihood that in the forecast weather conditions these fires, particularly in the back end of the mountains, will merge at some point.”
New South Wales emergency services minister Mike Gallacher fears strong north-westerly winds could push the fires towards the more populated Blue Mountains towns of Katoomba and Leura and parts of western Sydney. Smoke hung over the city and harbour as experts warned asthmatics of hazardous air quality.
A 63-year-old man died of a heart attack while protecting his home from fire at Lake Munmorah, north of Sydney. At least five people, including three firefighters, have been treated in hospital for burns and smoke inhalation, officials said.
The wildfires have been very intense and have come early in an annual fire season that peaks during the southern hemisphere summer which begins in December.
Arson investigators are examining the origins of several of the fires that have threatened towns surrounding Sydney. Police charged two girls aged 12 and 13 with lighting a fire in woodland on Sydney’s western fringe on Friday. Firefighters put out the blaze.
An 11-year-old boy in the Port Stephens area of the state was charged with lighting two fires. A boy of 15 has also been arrested over the fires, according to local media. Australia’s military is investigating whether a training exercise using explosives may have started one bushfire.
An image of exhausted fire fighters sprawled out on an open road has been viewed by millions on the Internet. They worked through the night in horrific and dangerous conditions to prevent the fires reaching Catherine Hill Bay in New South Wales.