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09 Dec 2019 | 06:41 PM UTC

Australia: Hazardous air quality levels in New South Wales December 10 /update 15

Official record hazardous air quality levels in parts of New South Wales, including Sydney, on December 10, due to ongoing wildfires; take necessary precautions

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AUS

Event

Australia’s Department of Planning and Environment has recorded hazardous air quality levels in multiple areas of New South Wales (NSW) on the morning (local time) of Tuesday, December 10, due to ongoing wildfires across the state. Sydney and the Hunter, central coast, and Illawarra regions are all at hazardous levels and are expected to remain there through Tuesday. In Sydney, conditions are worse in the northwest areas near Richmond and St. Marys and in the south towards Bargo. Health officials are warning people in the area to take necessary precautions, including staying indoors, particularly for elderly individuals and those with existing heart or lung conditions.

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) has warned of an increased fire danger and potential spread of the blazes on Tuesday. Temperatures are expected to reach over 40°C (104°F), with hot, dry air moving through the region. Severe fire danger ratings are in effect for multiple areas, including Greater Hunter, Greater Sydney Region, Illawarra/Shoalhaven, ACT, Southern Ranges, and Central Ranges. The RFS also issued total fire bans for those areas, as well as for Southern Slopes, Eastern Riverina, Monaro Alpine, and North Western. As of Tuesday morning, over 80 bushfires are ongoing and almost 3000 firefighters have been deployed to combat the blazes.  

Further spread of the fires is anticipated over the coming days and weeks. A heightened security 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. At least four people have died due to the wildfires that broke out across eastern Australia since early November 2019. 

An AQI reading of 0-50 is considered good, 51-100 moderate, and 101-200+ unhealthy.

Advice

Individuals present in New South Wales are advised to keep abreast of warnings 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.