Australia fires: Crews battle blazes across NSW and Queensland

By Ben Westcott and Brett McKeehan, CNN

Updated 8:11 a.m. ET, November 12, 2019
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6:02 p.m. ET, November 11, 2019

350 koalas have been "incinerated" in the blazes

From CNN's Joshua Berlinger

An estimated 350 koalas are feared dead in the Australian bushfires, according to Sue Ashton, president of the Koala Hospital Port Macquarie.

"Where we thought we had koalas, we now think they've been incinerated," Ashton told CNN affiliate Nine News Australia on Friday.

"The fire is so intense that what's happening is the fire goes through and the little koalas and other wildlife are just burned to pieces and become ash. So it's absolutely horrific."

The hospital is treating at least 12 koalas, five of which have serious injuries, Ashton said.

Up to 600 koalas live on the Lake Innes Nature Reserve in New South Wales, Ashton said, and two-thirds of the habitat has already burned.

8:42 p.m. ET, November 11, 2019

Authorities declare "catastrophic" fire warning in New South Wales

From CNN's Joshua Berlinger

Wildfires burning in Glen Innes, Australia, on November 10, 2019.
Wildfires burning in Glen Innes, Australia, on November 10, 2019. Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

On Sunday, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service raised the fire danger for the greater Sydney area to a "catastrophic" rating -- the highest level.

It's the first time the warning level has been set for greater Sydney since a new rating system was introduced a decade ago.

The nearby greater Hunter area, Illawarra and Shoalhaven are all facing catastrophic fire warnings.

The rating calls on people to evacuate ahead of time, to avoid areas that might be prone to fires, or identify safe locations if they're unable to leave.

"For your survival, leaving early is the only option," the warning stated.

The fire service said the coming days will see high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity. A total statewide fire ban was instituted statewide and will stretch into Tuesday, the fire service said.