By 3 News online staff
Temperatures in New South Wales have risen above 30degC as predicted, as the state faces “catastrophic” fire conditions.
The temperature in the town of Bega rose15degC in one hour today, reaching 40degC at 11:04am (local time).
Fire crews are battling more than 100 separate fires throughout the state, 20 of which are uncontained.
The rural fire service has been issuing emergency warnings through its website and Twitter page, telling residents in at-risk areas whether to evacuate or stay put and take shelter.
There have been warnings for several areas in southern NSW, including Monaro and Bega.
A total state-wide fire ban has been imposed, with fire risk levels throughout most of NSW rated as “extreme” or “very high”.
More than 10,000 firefighters are on standby, including Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott, who is a volunteer with the Rural Fire Brigade.
“I'm now on my way to Sydney to be on standby with my local fire brigade,” he tweeted this morning.
“[It’s] Important to follow fire warnings and advice today.”
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 radio station 702 ABC Sydney.
National Parks and camping grounds have been closed, and nursing homes and other vulnerable people in badly affected areas will be evacuated.
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 are also being affected by the heatwave.
In Victoria, more than 7,000ha have already been burned.
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.
Two crews of New Zealand firefighters will leave for Tasmania tomorrow after a formal request from authorities.
A total of 12 firefighters with experience fighting fires in tall timber, remote and high country areas 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," National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield told NZ Newswire.
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.
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