Story at a glance
- Over 100 bushfires in Australia caused catastrophic conditions, and a state of emergency has been declared.
- Some people have been accused of starting fires on purpose, despite a nationwide fire ban.
- "The only safe place to be is somewhere else," says one expert.
More than 100 active bushfires in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia, brought catastrophic conditions on Tuesday. Some regions faced evacuation as firefighters controlled the blaze, which was downgraded to ‘Watch and Act’ level on Wednesday after the weather cooled, the New Zealand Herald reports.
The severe fires stoked political tensions over climate change and environmental management, the New York Times reports, because of the size and power of Australia’s coal industry and the often severe weather conditions. Dry conditions and strong winds have exacerbated the recent fires.
The bushfires have killed koalas, and smoke has reduced air quality to unsafe levels. The size of the fires also causes “firestorms,” a thunderstorm caused when the smoke plume of a wildfire reaches the stratosphere. Some of the recent fires have been started by “dry lightning,” and others have allegedly been started by people purposely lighting fires despite a country-wide fire ban. (Local press calls the firestarters “firebugs.”) The size of these wildfires also raises concerns because the peak of summer is still weeks away.
"We've got the worst of the summer — the worst of the season — still ahead of us as we head into summer," NSW Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told BBC.
The “catastrophic” fire rating affected New South Wales’s capital city Sydney, but people living in rural areas were in greater danger, CNN reports. Three people died earlier this week because of bushfires, but no lives were lost on Tuesday.
"The only safe place to be is somewhere else," Stuart Ellis, chief executive of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, told national broadcaster ABC.