A state of emergency has been declared in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) for the second time in two months, as firefighters battle nearly 100 active fires amid a record-breaking heat wave.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, head of the local government, declared the state of emergency on Thursday morning, as authorities warned of severe weather conditions that are expected to continue worsening.
The fires have been burning for two months now, exacerbated by rising temperatures. Wednesday broke the record for the hottest day nationwide, with the average maximum temperature hitting 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.4 Fahrenheit). That beat the previous record of 40.9 Celsius (105.6 Fahrenheit) – which had been set just the day before.
The emergency declaration grants “extraordinary powers” to the commissioner of the Rural Fire Service, according to the state government website. These include the power to allocate government resources, direct government agencies in taking action, close roads and evacuate residents.
“These declarations are not taken lightly,” said Berejiklian in a news release Thursday. “It will ensure once again that our state is best placed to respond to the predicted fire conditions.”
The state of emergency will last seven days. This is the second time it has been declared this fire season; it was also declared on November 11. In addition to the emergency declaration, there is also a statewide fire ban in place until midnight Saturday.
Firefighting conditions were especially difficult on Thursday, with strong winds and high heat. As of Thursday morning, there were still 97 fires burning statewide, 50 of which were not contained, and 1,700 firefighters battling the flames.
One particularly large fire is burning in the Wollemi National Park Area, northwest of Sydney – it’s more than 417,000 hectares in size and “is out of control,” the Rural Fire Service said. It warned residents that “It is too late to leave,” and to take shelter from the heat of the fire.
A total of six people have died and nearly 800 homes have been destroyed by the fires this season, according to the NSW government.
A record-breaking heat wave
Earlier this week, the city of Perth in Western Australia experienced three consecutive days above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) – which had never happened in December, according to CNN meteorologists.
The heat wave fully arrived on Tuesday – but Australians have faced sweltering temperatures for a week now. Last Friday, a man in Perth cooked an entire pork roast just by leaving it in the front seat of his car, according to CNN affiliate 9News.
“I cooked 1.5kg (3.3 pound) pork roast inside an old Datsun Sunny for 10 hours on a 39 degree (102 Fahrenheit) day,” said Stu Pengelly, who posted a photo of the roast – cut into slices and cooked through – on Facebook.
He urged people not to leave their children locked in cars – a warning the Victoria Ambulance echoed on Thursday. In a statement, it said the police force had responded to eight children left in vehicles in one day, though none required medical treatment.
The heat wave began largely concentrated in South Australia, but is now moving east into Victoria and NSW. Authorities have warned that temperatures could rise even higher over the course of the week. The fire danger is expected to ease slightly on Friday, and worsen again on Saturday.