Nov. 12 (UPI) — Fire crews fought more than 100 wildfires across eastern Australia on Tuesday, a day officials expected to be one of the most dangerous the country has ever seen.
Brush fires in the states of New South Wales and Queensland have activated emergency conditions and destroyed at least 170 homes so far, authorities said. Officials expected Tuesday to be potentially “catastrophic,” with especially dangerous wildfire conditions.
Officials said as of Tuesday night there were 75 fires burning in New South Wales, 10 of which were listed at the emergency level. Temperatures fell along the coast, which crews say should help, but a change in wind direction could increase the danger elsewhere.
So far, three people have died as a result of the fires — two as they tried to outrun fast-moving flames in their vehicles. Officials said they plan to deploy the army, including reservists, to back up crews and clean up areas. Hundreds of schools closed as temperatures climbed and wind gusts fanned flames.
New South Wales was under an unprecedented “catastrophic” warning for Sydney and surrounding regions in New South Wales. Rural fire service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said no houses are built to withstand the flames, urging residents in fire-prone areas to evacuate.
“We cannot guarantee a fire truck at every home,” he said. “We cannot guarantee that someone will knock on your door and give you a warning.”
Despite the warnings, many residents have decided to stay home due to a threat of looters.
Firefighters battled a spot fire Tuesday at a property in Nana Glen that belongs to actor Russell Crowe.
Australian officials have banned all fires nationwide, and at least four people have been fined for ignoring the order.
Wildfires are common in Australia but it’s still early in the fire season, leading to concerns things could grow worse. The extra hot, dry conditions that have fed the fires have drawn attention to climate change.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to answer questions about whether the fires are related to climate change, and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said any attempt to link the two is a “disgrace.”
“They don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time,” he said.