Southeast Australia battles ‘catastrophic’ wildfires
Sydney: Southeast Australia was bracing for "catastrophic" fire conditions in several areas amid frantic efforts by fire officials to douse wildfires spread across the region. Evacuations were underway at national parks as well amidst blistering temperatures and high winds.
According to reports, fire authorities described wildfire conditions in parts of the nation's most populous state of New South Wales, at catastrophic threat levels. This is the highest rating ascribed to wildfires.
Thousands of firefighters are on standby and all state forests and national parks have been shut. Total fire bans have been imposed and temperatures are expected to rise to 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in several areas.
"We are shaping up for one of the worst fire danger days on record," New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said, as reported by AP. "You don't get conditions worse than this. We are at the catastrophic level and clearly in those areas leaving early is your safest option."
No deaths have been reported so far, although officials in Tasmania were trying to find around 100 residents who have been missing since a fire tore through the small town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart, last week, destroying around 90 homes. On Tuesday, police said no bodies were found during preliminary checks of the ruined houses.
Wildfires have razed 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of forests and farmland across southern Tasmania since Friday.
More than 100 fires were blazing across New South Wales on Tuesday, though only a handful of homes were under threat as of early afternoon. Officials were bracing for winds up to 80 kilometres per hour (50 miles per hour) later in the day that could fan the flames in unpredictable directions.
Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. In February 2009, hundreds of fires across Victoria state killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.
(With Agency inputs)