The New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced at around 10:00 (local time) on Thursday, December 19, that a State of Emergency (SoE) has been implemented in NSW until Thursday, December 26, amid extreme fire danger weather warnings and ongoing statewide bush fires. The SoE allows firefighters to direct state resources where needed, and to issue evacuation orders, close roads, or shut down utilities. As of 13:00 on Thursday, 114 bush fires are burning throughout NSW. The NSW Rural Fire Services (NSW RFS) have also issued emergency warnings for three fires in the Shoalhaven and Wollondilly areas meaning that it is too late to evacuate; individuals must seek shelter. Premier Berejiklian confirmed that a statewide Total Fire Ban is in place until 00:00 on Saturday, December 21. Approximately 1700 firefighters are currently deployed across the state, however, NSW RFS have warned that limited resources and manpower mean that not all calls for help may receive a response and individuals are encouraged to evacuate high risk areas.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) forecasts hot to very hot, dry and windy conditions resulting in elevated fire dangers across large parts of the eastern and southern districts on Thursday. The BoM issued extreme fire danger warnings for the Greater Sydney Region, Illawarra, Shaolhaven, and Southern Ranges, as well as severe fire danger warnings in the Australian Capital Territory, North Coast, Greater Hunter, Far South Coast, Monaro Alpine, Central Ranges, and Southern Slopes. The bureau expects temperatures to reach between 40-49°C (104-122°F) across most of NSW on Thursday. Premier Berejiklian has warned that the unpredictable weather conditions, including extreme wind and hot temperatures, are expected to continue in the coming days with a particular concern for Saturday, December 21.
Smoke from the fires has caused hazardous air quality conditions and haze over Sydney on Thursday. The NSW Ambulance Commissioner has reported an increase in patients suffering respiratory conditions since Thursday, December 12. He advises individuals with asthma and other respiratory conditions to remain indoors.
Further spread of the fires is anticipated over the coming days and weeks as the extreme weather conditions continue. A heightened security and emergency personnel presence, road closures, and power outages are to be expected in the vicinity of any wildfire. Up-to-date information on the fires can be found on the NSW RFS website here.
Wildfires are an annual event in Australia between December and February; however, authorities have been on high alert since September 2015 over unseasonably warm temperatures, prompting scientists to speculate that climate change could be extending and increasing the intensity of the fire season. At least four people have died due to the wildfires that broke out across eastern Australia since early November 2019.
Individuals present in New South Wales are advised to keep abreast of warnings, anticipate transportation and power disruptions, and adhere to any instructions issued by local authorities, notably evacuation orders. As high temperatures are expected in the near-term, individuals are also advised to remain hydrated and minimize outdoor activities. Furthermore, individuals should limit outdoor activities until the situation normalizes and those with chronic respiratory illnesses should exercise increased caution; seek medical attention if experiencing breathing difficulties or other health concerns.