12 Nov 2019

'We've got a long way to go': Australian fire authorities urge vigilance as night falls

9:37 pm on 12 November 2019

More than 70 fires burned across New South Wales today, about half uncontrolled.

A bushfire burns outside a property near Taree, 350km north of Sydney on November 12, 2019.

Photo: AFP

Up to 15 fires reached emergency alert level, as powerful winds and higher temperatures picked up throughout the day. Some of these fires have since been downgraded to 'watch and act' level.

The Australian Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said there was no indication of a catastrophic fire danger rating tomorrow.

"Once we see the passage of this front move through, there's a drop in temperatures and some cooler conditions behind the change.

"We're not expecting to see widespread extreme, or certainly catastrophic conditions tomorrow."

However, a cold front is moving through southern and western New South Wales, continuing through to the north-east overnight or early Wednesday.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, winds will be strong and gusty ahead of the change.

"Fires are going to spread quickly and embers will be carried well ahead of any ongoing fires," meteorologist Andrea Pace said.

"Then as the southerly winds move through, the direction of the fire front will change, so this really is a dangerous situation," she said.

Mr Fitzsimmons said there was a statewide total fire ban in place and it's important to be mindful that towards the end of the week, hot, dry and windy condiitions were expected again.

"The message is we still need to remain vigilant. We have been dealing with fires on the north coast, new fires in other parts of New South Wales, including the Greater Sydney environment."

The victims of New South Wales' devastating bushfires have been dragged into the federal political arena as politicians bicker over the role of climate change and controlled burning.

Australian Nationals backbencher Barnaby Joyce has claimed two of the victims who were killed at the weekend had "most likely" voted for the Greens - comments senior government minister Mathias Cormann has denounced.

NSW residents George Nole and Julie Fletcher were two of the three people who died in the fires in recent days.

Mr Joyce made the comments as he sought to attack Greens politicians for what he said was a failure to support hazard-reduction burning during winter.

Josh Dye from the Sydney Morning Herald has told Checkpoint there's about six million people in the 'catastrophic' area.

It is the first time the Greater Sydney area has experienced such a threat since the 'catastrophic' rating was introduced in 2009.

Residents in the Sydney area were warned of "catastrophic" fire danger as Australia prepared for a fresh wave of deadly bushfires that have ravaged the drought-stricken east of the country.

Photo: AFP

On Monday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a state of emergency for New South Wales, allowing the Rural Fire Service (RFS) special powers to evacuate property and shut down electricity.

"We've seen lives lost last week, houses lost, the koala population has been significantly impacted as well...it's a really traumatic time for a lot of people and there's still a little bit to play out yet," Mr Dye told Checkpoint.

President of the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital Sue Ashton told the Today Show that after working to keep koalas safe from recent fires they now believe many koalas have perished in the latest fires to rip through the region - on Saturday they estimated about 350.

She said the organisation believes there were 500-600 koalas in the area and 2/3 of their habitat had been burnt in the previous set of fires.

Firefighters monitor bush fires at the Woodford residential area in Blue Mountains on November 12, 2019

Photo: AFP

Meanwhile, the New Zealand government has made an offer of firefighting assistance to Australia.

Twenty-one New Zealand firefighters packed their bags at short notice for a rapid deployment to Australia today.

The firefighters will be in Queensland for 12 days, working up to 14-hour shifts five days in a row with one day off in between in hot, humid, windy weather.

Niwa meteorologist Ben Noll said the next plume of smoke was expected to grace New Zealand skies tomorrow night.

Fire and Emergency is warning New Zealanders to prepare for an increased risk of bushfires here this summer but it said they won't be on the scale of the emergency across the Tasman.


For a full recap read the blog as it happened today:

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs