New blazes break out as Australians take shelter from intense bushfires

Tue 12 Nov 2019 07:32 GMT | 11:32 Local Time

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Officials issued 14 emergency warnings in New South Wales (NSW), each covering several communities, by late afternoon as more than half the 78 fires across the state burned uncontrolled amid “catastrophic” conditions.

A fire that erupted in Sydney’s northern suburbs in the late afternoon immediately cut off exit routes for some residents, a sign of the intensity of blazes erupting in tinder-dry bush.

“Complacency kills - we cannot afford for people to be complacent,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters in Sydney.

“This will only worsen throughout the afternoon as the weather conditions continue to deteriorate, and particularly those strong winds strengthen,” he said.

Fitzsimmons said in an afternoon update a firefighter battling a blaze had suffered a heart attack, although his condition was unknown.

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.

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.

The current outbreak, which killed three people and destroyed more than 150 homes at the weekend, has been fanned by an unprecedented combination of high temperatures and strong winds.

Most of the 14 emergency warnings issued by authorities on Tuesday, including the South Turramurra fire 20 km (12 miles) north of central Sydney, told affected residents they must seek cover and that it was too late to flee their homes.

In the small town of Wauchope, 400 km (250 miles) north of Sydney, residents moved hundreds of livestock to the central showground as fires approached.

“We have at least 350 horses, maybe more. They are still coming, we have cattle and sheep and chooks (chickens) and dogs and pigs, you name it,” said Neil Coombes, president of the Wauchope Show Society.

Coombes, who lives about 10 km (6 miles) outside town, said he would likely lose his home because it was in the anticipated path of the fire.

“My wife went home earlier and said, ‘is there anything you want me to get?’,” Coombes said.

“I said, ‘yes, I want you back here with me. If the house burns it burns but I can’t replace her’,” he said.

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