- The fires went out of control on the east coast on Saturday, fueled by high temperatures as well as the strong winds.
- Residents used social media to post photos of the sky turning black and red from the smoke and glow of the fires.
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison was heckled by villagers in Cobargo, New South Wales.
Australia’s death toll from fires has risen to 23, with more than 1,500 homes destroyed, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday. “We are facing another extremely difficult next 24 hours,” Morrison said at a televised news conference. “In recent times, particularly over the course of the balance of this week, we have seen this disaster escalate to an entirely new level.”
The fires went out of control on the east coast on Saturday, fueled by high temperatures as well as the strong winds that made it difficult for firefighters to work, with a change in wind conditions that eventually blew several fire fronts. By the end of the night, the state of Victoria had 14 fires at emergency or evacuation alert levels, and New South Wales had 11 at emergency levels, with over 150 others around. New burns began, and others broke the containment lines.
“There are a number of fires that are coming together – very strong, very large, intense fires that are creating some of these fire-generated thunderstorms,” said New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RSF) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. “And unfortunately we’ve still got many hours to go of these elevated and dangerous conditions,” the official added.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said conditions are deteriorating rapidly, with a sudden change in winds off the south coast and smoke from fires causing storms. Authorities are concerned that the fires are worse than New Year’s Eve, when they burned large areas of forest and forced thousands of residents and tourists to seek refuge on the coast. In updates, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) repeated the advice to those who had not yet evacuated the hazardous areas: “It is too late to leave. Seek shelter as the fire approaches.”
Residents used social media to post photos of the sky turning black and red from the smoke and glow of the fires, including the city of Mallacoota, where about 1,000 people evacuated to the sea on Friday. The first of these refugees arrived near Melbourne on Saturday after a 20-hour boat journey, and the second ship of about 1,000 people docked in the afternoon. The federal government has announced an unprecedented call of army reservists to support firefighters, as well as other resources, including a third vessel equipped for disaster and humanitarian relief.
Temperatures reached 45 degrees Celsius in most of Sydney’s metropolitan area, with Penrith recording 48.9 degrees, according to the BOM. Canberra, the country’s capital, recorded temperatures of 44 degrees. Approximately 480 million animals have been affected by the forest fires in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) since September. The forest fires that have been raging since the end of August cause great concern for Australia’s unique fauna. For example, an estimated 30 percent of the koala population died in the state.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Cobargo, in New South Wales on Thursday, where two people were killed by the fires last week. The PM, however, had it rough as villagers heckled him in protest that his government did not do enough to protect the people from the raging fires. One resident called the prime minister “an idiot,” and others said no one in Cobargo would vote for him. Morrisson drove away a frustrated man as villagers shouted at him.