A home is seen as smoke from the Grose Valley Fire rises in the distance, at Bilpin, on Saturday. Dan Himbrechts/ Reuters
Temperatures above 40C (104F) and strong winds created “catastrophic” conditions on Saturday for firefighters battling more than 100 fires burning across New South Wales state, while in South Australia one person was found dead in a fire zone.
Some roads outside Sydney were closed and authorities asked people to delay travel, at the start of what is normally a busy Christmas holiday period, warning of the unpredictability of the fires as winds of up to 70 kph (44 mph) were set to fan the flames.
“Catastrophic fire conditions are as bad as it gets,” NSW Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told journalists.
“They are the very worst of conditions. Given we have a landscape with so much active fire burning, you have a recipe for very serious concern and a very dangerous day.”
Greater Sydney and two surrounding areas were rated as catastrophic for Saturday, and other areas were at extreme or very-high fire danger ratings.
Close to 10,000 emergency personnel would be working across NSW on Saturday. The state’s Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott described it as probably the largest emergency deployment ever seen in NSW.
“They’re there, four days before Christmas, to keep families safe,” Elliott told media.
A southerly wind change is expected late on Saturday afternoon. It is forecast to bring winds of up to 90 kph (56 mph), which Fitzsimmons said would initially worsen fire conditions before leading to a dramatic drop in temperatures.
The death of two firefighters on Thursday night when their fire truck was struck by a falling tree as it travelled through the front line of a fire brought the wildfires death toll in New South Wales to eight since the start of October.
Shortly after the two deaths were announced, Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a statement saying he would return as soon as possible from a family holiday in Hawaii, a trip that had drawn sharp criticism as the wildfires crisis deepened.
SOUTH Australia, VICTORIA FIRES
In South Australia, authorities said one person had been found dead, another was critically injured and 15 homes had been destroyed by a fire in the Adelaide Hills, just 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of the state capital of Adelaide.
The death followed another fatality in South Australia on Friday, the result of a car crash in an area where an emergency fire warning was in place.
Authorities said 23 firefighters suffered injuries on Friday as the parts of the state endured catastrophic fire conditions.
In the state of Victoria, 15 blazes were burning out of control on Saturday morning, with an emergency warning placed on two in the state’s east.
Australia has been fighting wildfires across a number of states for weeks, with blazes destroying more than 700 homes and nearly 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of bushland.
The current bushfire season has seen half the number of callouts in New South Wales state, at 5,500, as the previous season, the NSW Rural Fire Service said on Wednesday, and burned 31,000 hectares compared to 5.5 million hectares razed across the state during last season’s Black Summer wildfires.
Al-Harbi told media, “As soon as I came out of my house, I saw thick smoke billowing from my elderly neighbour’s house. Without wasting a minute I went to his house and tried to open the main door."
Actors, popstars and Britain's royal family have stepped in to offer support for victims of Australia's unprecedented bushfires, helping to raise millions for firefighting services and wildlife shelters.
The House members, largely left-leaning Democrats and led by Representative Andre Carson, noted that Shireen Abu Akleh held US citizenship and pointed to divergent accounts on how she died on May 11.
Israeli troops shot and killed a teenage Palestinian boy as clashes erupted when they entered a volatile town in the occupied West Bank early on Saturday, the Palestinian health ministry and local media said.
The ongoing COVID wave, declared last week, has fuelled concerns over a lack of vaccines, inadequate medical infrastructure and a potential food crisis in the country of 25 million, which has refused outside help and kept its borders shut.