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21 Dec 2019 | 06:57 AM UTC

Australia: Wildfires continue in New South Wales and South Australia December 21 /update 18

Severe heatwave and bushfires continue in New South Wales and South Australia December 21; heightened security presence and transportation disruptions reported

environment
security
transportation
AUS

Event

New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) issued several fire warnings in NSW, South Australia and Victoria due to extreme ongoing bushfires as of Saturday, December 21. Some major roads heading to the south and west from Sydney were closed for part of the day. Train services west of Sydney were also delayed and cancelled. Temperatures above 40°C (104°F) along with heavy wind gusts of up to 90 kph (56mph) from the south were recorded, spreading flames across the region. In South Australia, two people were found dead in a fire zone and severe infrastructure damages were reported. In Victoria, authorities said 142 fires had started in the state since Friday. Thousands of firemen are currently deployed in the affected areas. Authorities asked travelers to delay their journeys during the Christmas period as the crisis could potentially intensify.

Wildfires have burned at least 2.7 million hectares (7.4 acres) of bushland since they broke out on October 9. Authorities have indicated that the fires are due to high temperatures and drought.

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.

Context

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.

Advice

Individuals present in the affected areas 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.