Australian state of New South Wales declared a state of emergency for seven days, forcing immediate evacuation from fire-stricken areas as the deadly blaze continues.
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Thursday that the emergency declaration would come into effect Friday morning as weather conditions are expected to deteriorate significantly on Saturday, raising the fire danger even further.
This is the third time NSW has declared a state of emergency — earlier in November and December seven day emergencies were declared.
The emergency grants extraordinary powers to the Rural Fire Service commissioner such as: road closures, forced evacuations and other means to keep people safe.
Evacuations are already underway on Thursday.
The NSW Rural Fire Service has set up a “tourist leave zone” from the NSW coastal town of Batemans Bay down to the Victoria border. They are urging all visitors to evacuate before Saturday, when temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius and dry conditions powered by strong winds could heighten risk of further blazes.
Tourist Leave Zone – South Coast Bush Fires
Dangerous conditions for holiday makers on the South Coast of NSW this weekend
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 1, 2020
On Tuesday, similar conditions killed seven people within 24 hours. Conditions improved slightly on Thursday, creating a small window of opportunity for people to evacuate before the situations worsens again Saturday.
Tens of thousands of people are estimated to be in the region. Evacuation is difficult in some owns where roads have been closed and the communities cut off. In Victoria, there are 24 such isolated communities.
State authorities are working to evacuate residents in these cut-off areas. A navy vessel transported over 800 people to safe locations from the Mallacoota area that was isolated.
Air evacuations haven’t been able to take place due to dense smoke. Military personnel in army trucks were rescuing stranded residents.
The bushfires are ranging for months now, and it doesn’t seem to stop anytime soon. The peak summer season is likely to worsen the situation in January and February.
A total of 17 people have died across the country so far. Nearly 1,300 homes have been destroyed and another 442 damaged. The weather condition this year has been the most extreme leading to more devastating blazes.
Experts say climate change has worsened the scale and impact of the fires, and many have accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s administration of not doing enough to address the climate crisis.