Date: Wed, 1 Jan 2020 10:10:03 +0100 (MET) By Holly ROBERTSON
Sydney, Jan 1, 2020 (AFP) - Relief supplies began reaching thousands of people stranded in fire-ravaged Australian towns Wednesday after deadly bushfires ripped through popular tourist spots and rural areas leaving at least eight people dead. Navy ships and military aircraft were deployed alongside emergency crews to provide humanitarian relief and assess the damage from the deadliest spate of blazes yet in a months-long bushfire crisis.
Police said three more bodies were discovered Wednesday, bringing the confirmed death toll since late Monday to eight, including a volunteer firefighter who died when a "fire tornado" flipped his 10-tonne truck. The latest deaths take to at least 17 the number of people killed in one of Australia's most devastating bushfire seasons of recent years. There were mounting fears for several others missing after the country's southeast was devastated by out-of-control blazes, which destroyed more than 200 homes and left some small towns in ruins. The fires encircled seaside communities to trap thousands of holidaymakers and locals, cutting electricity and communication services that in many areas remained down late Wednesday.
New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said emergency services faced a "real challenge" accessing isolated areas to help injured people, at least three of whom were later airlifted out suffering burns. As fires raged across the country, some of the stranded were taking advantage of temporary road re-openings to return home while others faced a second trying night bedding down in make-shift accommodation. In the coastal town of Eden, where evacuees were camping at football fields, volunteer Loureen Kelly said food was "running low very quickly" amid panic buying. "Basic things like bread we ran out of yesterday. We had milk and very low to no fruit in town," she told public broadcaster ABC, adding that the community had rallied to provide food to the evacuees.
- 'Ember attacks' - In Mallacoota where 4,000 had huddled on the foreshore as fire swept through, authorities were preparing for the possibility that the town could be cut off for weeks. Aircraft have begun dropping supplies and ships carrying two weeks' worth of supplies arrived late Wednesday. Paramedics reportedly assessed the injured and moved those requiring further treatment to a 25-bed floating medical centre off the coast. Many people have returned to find their homes burned to the ground, with the task of rebuilding shattered communities expected to take years. Gary Hinton escaped flames roaring through Cobargo early Tuesday and returned to the stricken town to find his father's house largely intact, but many other buildings reduced to cinders. "It wasn't good. It's turned out pretty devastating for everyone," he told AFP.
- 'Long and dangerous fight' - Cooler temperatures and easing winds provided a window of opportunity for relief efforts Wednesday, but there were concerns over new fires sparked by lightning in alpine regions. "There's a lot of people holidaying, again, up in those areas," Victoria Emergency Management commissioner Andrew Crisp said. "We'll be prioritising those (fires) and hitting them as hard as we can. We don't need any new fires." Authorities warned the fire danger would spike on Saturday as temperatures soar again.
"At the very least, weather conditions will be at least as bad as what they were yesterday," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. "That makes this a long and dangerous and complex fight, a long and dangerous process to support everyone who's been impacted by it," Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews added. This season's blazes have killed at least 17 people, destroyed more than 1,000 homes and scorched about 5.5 million hectares (13.5 million acres) -- an area bigger than Denmark or the Netherlands. For weeks, major Australian cities have been choked by toxic bushfire smoke, and on Wednesday air quality reached hazardous levels in Canberra as visibility in the capital plummeted. Satellite images showed smoke from the latest fires had blown across the Tasman Sea to reach New Zealand.
The unprecedented crisis has sparked street protests calling on the government to immediately act on climate change, which scientists say is creating a longer and more intense bushfire season. Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under increasing pressure for his response, which has included holidaying in Hawaii as the disaster unfolded and reiterating his steadfast support for Australia's lucrative -- but heavily polluting -- coal mining industry. Officials in Sydney have also been criticised for ignoring calls to cancel the harbour city's famed New Year's Eve fireworks display.
Date: Mon, 30 Dec 2019 07:12:06 +0100 (MET)
Melbourne, Dec 30, 2019 (AFP) - Fire threatened three Melbourne suburbs Monday, with residents warned it was too late to flee and they must "act immediately to survive," as a heatwave fuelled Australia's deadly bushfire crisis. Authorities declared a bushfire emergency as an out-of-control blaze bore down on homes in Australia's second-biggest city.
In Bundoora -- just 16 kilometres (10 miles) north of the city centre and home to two major Australian university campuses -- fire was "threatening homes and lives", Victoria Emergency said. "You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive," the agency said in a message to residents. "The safest option is to take shelter indoors immediately. It is too late to leave." Local media showed images of water bombers flying over the neighbourhoods and families dousing their homes with water hoses in the hope of halting the fire's spread.
It is the latest emergency in Australia's devastating summer fire season, which has been turbocharged by a prolonged drought and climate change. Ten people have been killed, more than 1,000 homes destroyed and more than three million hectares (7.4 million acres) -- an area bigger than Belgium -- have been scorched. Conditions worsened on Friday with high winds and temperatures soaring across the country -- reaching 47 degrees Celsius (117 Fahrenheit) in Western Australia and topping 40 degrees in every region -- including the usually temperate island of Tasmania.
More than a dozen blazes are also raging in the East Gippsland countryside, where authorities said "quite a number" of the 30,000 tourists visiting the usually picturesque region had heeded calls to evacuate. Some of the fires were burning so intensely that hundreds of firefighters were pulled back beyond a firefront estimated to stretch 1,000 kilometres (600 miles). It was deemed "unsafe" for them to remain in bushland areas, Gippsland fire incident controller Ben Rankin said, describing the situation as "very intense."
- 'Too late to leave' - Authorities had warned tourists enjoying Australia's summer holidays in East Gippsland that the fires would cut off the last major road still open. Victoria Emergency Management commissioner Andrew Crisp said residents and holiday makers still in the area faced being stranded as it was now "too late to leave", with his agency warning it was "not possible" to provide aid to all visitors in the area. Neighbouring South Australia is also experiencing "catastrophic" fire conditions.
The Country Fire Service's Brenton Eden said it would be a "very dangerous" day for people in the state, with "dry" thunderstorms -- which produce thunder and lightning but no rain -- already sparking a number of fires including an emergency-level blaze on Kangaroo Island. "Winds are gusting and unfortunately this is a dry lightning front that is going to move rapidly across South Australia," he told national broadcaster ABC. Conditions were also expected to deteriorate in worst-hit New South Wales, where 100 fires were burning Monday morning including more than 40 uncontained.
Sydney and other major cities have been shrouded in toxic bushfire smoke haze for weeks, forcing children to play indoors and causing professional sporting events to be cancelled. The capital Canberra has cancelled its New Year's Eve fireworks display due to a total fire ban in the Australia Capital Territory, while several regional towns have also followed suit.
A petition to cancel Sydney's famous New Year's Eve fireworks and use the money to fight bushfires ringing the city has topped 270,000 signatures, but officials say the show will go on. Sydney has spent Aus$6.5 million ($4.5 million) on this year's fireworks display -- funds that the Change.org petition argues would be better spent on supporting volunteer firefighters and farmers suffering through a brutal drought.
Date: Sun, 29 Dec 2019 03:09:18 +0100 (MET)
Sydney, Dec 29, 2019 (AFP) - A petition to cancel Sydney's famous New Year's Eve fireworks and use the money to fight bushfires ringing the city has topped 260,000 signatures, but officials say the show will go on. Sydney is spending Aus$6.5 million ($4.5 million) on this year's fireworks display -- funds that the Change.org petition argues would be better spent on supporting volunteer firefighters and farmers suffering through a brutal drought.
The massive fireworks display on Sydney Harbour "may traumatise some people", the petition says, "as there is enough smoke in the air". Toxic smoke haze from bushfires raging across Australia has blanketed Sydney and other major cities for weeks. Entire towns have been left in ruins by devastating blazes in worst-hit New South Wales (NSW) state, where eight people have died and an area the size of Belgium burnt to cinders. "2019 has been a catastrophic year in Australia for Floods and Fires," the petition states. "All states should say NO to FIREWORKS."
A City of Sydney spokesman said while they "appreciate the concerns" of the people opposed to holding the fireworks during a bushfire crisis, cancelling the celebration would have "little practical benefit for affected communities". "We began preparations and planning for the NYE celebrations 15 months ago. This means most of the budget, largely used for crowd safety and cleaning measures, has already been spent," the spokesman said in a statement. "Cancelling the event would seriously hurt Sydney businesses. It would also ruin plans for tens of thousands of people from across the country and overseas who have booked flights, hotels and restaurants for New Year's Eve."
Sydney's council added that it has donated Aus$620,000 to support the bushfire and drought response and would also promote a Red Cross disaster relief fund during the televised fireworks broadcast. A heatwave is due to sweep across parts of NSW in the coming days, with deteriorating bushfire conditions expected to hit Tuesday.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said he did not expect any impact on the fireworks, but he was prepared to cancel them last-minute if he deemed it to be too risky. "The pyrotechnics organisations and local authorities are used to working with us around exemptions in the summer period, whether it is Christmas, New Year or some other event," he said. "They know the arrangements, the procedures, and we will work through to make sure that risk is appropriately addressed and, where necessary, we won't allow them to go ahead." The display, watched by an estimated one billion people globally, is worth Aus$130 million annually to the NSW economy.
There is a measles alert in Darwin. There has been confirmation of a further case of this highly contagious disease.
"This case is a returned traveller who acquired the disease while in Samoa during the severe outbreak there. The case was fully immunised but, unfortunately, as sometimes happens, still acquired a mild case of the illness," Dr. Peter Markey, acting director of the Public Health Unit at Top End Health Service said.
"People who are immunised and contract measles are not usually as infectious as others, but we still have to take the necessary precautions to prevent spread," Dr. Markey said.
The Centre for Disease Control is contacting people who may have had contact with this case to provide information and offer preventive treatment or booster immunisation as appropriate. [See source URL for locations and dates exposure may have occurred.]
"In addition, there have been measles cases reported in other Australian states and a big outbreak of over a thousand in New Zealand, so the public should ensure they are immune to measles and remain alert for symptoms," Dr. Markey said.
Up to one-third of people infected with measles will experience a complication. Complications are more common in young children and adults and include ear infections, diarrhoea, pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and may require hospitalisation. [Byline: Chris McLennan]