By 3 News online staff with NZN
New South Wales will face “catastrophic” fire conditions today, with temperatures expected to reach record highs well above 30degC.
Parts of the state had reached over 30degC by 6:30am (local time), with temperatures in the town of Bega rising 15degC in one hour.
A total statewide fire ban has been imposed, with fire risk levels throughout most of NSW rated as “extreme” or “very high”.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has urged residents not to underestimate the risk.
“It will perhaps be the worst fire danger the state has ever faced,” he said.
''Rethink your need to be in the bush, have a bushfire plan, be prepared but most importantly make sure you are well away from harm's way.
''Don't just think [it] is another bushfire danger day…another summer's day."
Rural fire service commissioner Shane Fitsimmons says people in danger areas need to leave early.
"Even homes that are well-prepared and well-designed are not designed and expected to withstand the potential fire behaviour and conditions under the forecast,” he told 702 ABC Sydney.
Just after 9am (local time), the rural fire service issued an emergency alert for Monaro in southern New South Wales. A fire burning there had broken containment lines and was expected to impact the area within the hour. The fire service said people needed to leave the area immediately.
National Parks and camping grounds are being closed, and thousands of firefighters are on standby to evacuate nursing homes and other vulnerable people in badly affected areas.
As of yesterday, rural firefighters were already dealing with more than 90 blazes throughout the state, 20 of which were uncontained.
Wind gusts of up to 80km/h were fanning the fires and making conditions more difficult for emergency services.
One volunteer firefighter suffered severe burns to his hands and face while fighting a grass fire near Gundaroovillage, 220km southwest of Sydney. He was flown to a Sydney hospital for treatment.
‘DOME OF HEAT’ SUFFOCATES CONTINENT
The temperature in some NSW towns is predicted to reach 45degC today. Sydney is expecting a high of 43degC.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology says the country is currently covered by a “dome of heat”.
The bureau says yesterday’s country-wide average maximum temperature is likely to have beaten the long-standing record of 40.17degC set on December 21, 1976.
Areas of Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia will also be affected by the heatwave.
TASMANIA STILL AT HIGH RISK
Strong northerly winds forecast for Tasmania today mean the fire risk remains high in the state, which has already seen about 100 buildings destroyed.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard toured some of the worst-hit areas yesterday, and praised the “great Australian mateship” shown by firefighters.
Three thousand customers on the Tasman Peninsula are without power, which may not be restored for several weeks as electricity company Aurora Energy works to repair around 600 burnt power poles.
Authorities are putting together a supply convoy to travel to the Tasman Peninsula, and emergency funding of up to $1000 per affected adult has been made available.
Meanwhile police have charged a 31-year-old man with starting one of the southern fires, near Lake Repulse, by leaving a camp fire unattended last week.
Police did not release his name, and it was not clear what penalty he could face if convicted.
KIWI FIREFIGHTERS PITCH IN
Two crews of New Zealand firefighters will be heading across the ditch to help battle the bushfires in Tasmania.
Authorities have made a formal request for help to bring fires in remote areas of the state under control, says National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield.
A total of 12 fire fighters will be sent.
"Because of the remote areas that they'll be working in, those firefighters will be sourced from the likes of the Department of Conservation and the forestry companies," Mr Dudfield told NZ Newswire.
Planning is under way to get the crews to Tasmania as soon as possible.
More than 100 properties have been destroyed by fire in the state since last week.
No deaths from the fires have been reported, but emergency services crews are conducting property-to-property searches for human remains.
Mr Dudfield says that at this stage, no other requests have been made for assistance from New Zealand.
New South Wales is facing some of the worst fire conditions in the state's history on Tuesday.
More than 20 uncontained fires are burning across the state and a total fire ban is in place.
"We work very closely with our Australian counterparts and should they have a need in New South Wales, they only have to ask and we can consider their request," Mr Dudfield said.
PRINCE CHARLES ‘PROFOUNDLY SADDENED’
The Prince of Wales, who visited Tasmania with his wife Camilla in November, has sent a message to those affected by the fires.
“Having visited Tasmania so recently, and retaining countless fond and happy memories of all those we met, my wife and I were profoundly saddened to hear of the appalling bushfires which have caused such dreadful damage and despair across the island,” he said in a statement.
“However inadequate these sentiments may be under such awful circumstances, we wanted you to know that our hearts go out to all those whose lives, properties and businesses have been affected by those terrible fires. Our special thoughts and prayers are with them at such a desperate time.”
3 News / NZN