Australia’s biggest city on highest fire alert ever

Three people have died and 200 homes lost to bushfires in Australia and now the most populous city, Sydney, has been put on its highest fire alert as experts warn of catastrophic loss of life alongside massive property losses and unstoppable firestorms predicted for tomorrow (Tuesday local time).

A catastrophic fire danger warning has been forecast for the Greater Sydney and Greater Hunter areas — which is the first time the category has been declared since it was introduced in 2009.

“Catastrophic is the highest level of bush fire danger,’’ NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said yesterday.

“Homes are not designed to withstand a fire under these conditions. If a fire starts and takes hold during catastrophic fire danger conditions, lives and homes will be at risk.’’

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has declared a State of Emergency.

“I want to assure everybody that we have taken every step we can to protect life and property but we also need to stress that when something is determined to be catastrophic, there is a high degree of unpredictability,” she said.

“We don’t know exactly where the fires are going to flare up but we do know that we when you have average weather conditions at 38 degrees and extremely windy conditions across the state, that everybody has to be on alert no matter where you are.”

A lethal combination of high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity have experts declaring Tuesday’s conditions will be among the most dangerous on record in Australia.

“We’re talking about schools being destroyed, we’re talking about community halls, bridges, power poles,” RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

“All of those sorts of things, they get consumed in the path of a volatile fast-moving fire.

“We are particularly concerned about weather forecasts right across NSW for Tuesday. The indications are the conditions will be worse than what we experienced in northern NSW (on Friday).

“Not only will they be worse, they will be concentrated a lot further in NSW.”

The Telegraph in Sydney reported that authorities are pleading with residents to head to shopping centres and other safe places today and not wait until the last moment tomorrow, when the potentially-devastating conditions hit.

Meteorologist Ben Domensino told a mass of hot air was moving across to the east from Western Australia.

“It is elevating fire danger ratings in South Australia and parts of Victoria today on Monday, then on Tuesday, the threat will shift and focus into NSW and Wednesday, it pushes further north,” he said.

“So that’s why we’re seeing these danger ratings in South Australia elevated fire danger ratings across multiple states on multiple days.

“The drought’s been widespread and in some places record breaking.

“We have known this has been coming for months because we’ve had this dry weather leading up to the hottest time of year.

“Now we’re seeing the winds increasing, the temperatures increasing, which are typical of this time of year. But we don’t normally have this much fuel.

“We are seeing all of those conditions combined to create the perfect conditions for catastrophic fire danger ratings which is the highest rating on that scale and the first time it has been issued for Sydney.”

Temperatures are expected to reach 37C by Tuesday. Conditions are expected to be worse than on Friday, when the firestorms began tearing through parts of eastern Australia.

“Under these conditions, these fires will spread quickly and threaten homes and lives,” NSW Rural Fire Service said in a statement.

Schools in vulnerable areas will be closed and firefighters from New Zealand have been flown in to help as weary emergency crews prepare for a fresh onslaught. The Army might be called in.

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