EDEN, AUSTRALIA (AFP) – Gale-force winds in Australia merged two enormous fires into a megablaze across land almost four times the area of New York City yesterday, while thousands rallied to again demand action on climate change.
“The conditions are difficult today,” said Rural Fire Service Commissioner for New South Wales state Shane Fitzsimmons after days of relative calm.
“It’s the hot, dry winds that will prove once again to be the real challenge.”
Temperatures soared above 40 degrees Celsius in parts of New South Wales and neighbouring Victoria, where attention was focussed on the two fires that linked to form yet another monster blaze.
A “state of disaster” was extended 48 hours ahead of yesterday’s forecast of scorching temperatures, and evacuation orders were issued for areas around the New South Wales-Victoria border.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said there were more than 130 fires burning in the state, with just over 50 not yet under control.
On Kangaroo Island off south Australia, the largest town was cut off as firefighters battled dangerous infernos, forcing some residents to flee to the local jetty.
The catastrophic bushfires have killed at least 26 people, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and scorched some 80,000 square kilometres – an area the size of Ireland.
University of Sydney scientists estimate one billion mammals, birds and reptiles have been killed in the fires.
The severe conditions have been fuelled by a prolonged drought and worsened by climate change, with experts warning that such massive blazes were becoming more frequent and intense.
Australia experienced its driest and hottest year on record in 2019, with its highest average maximum temperature of 41.9 degrees Celsius recorded in mid-December, 2019.