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Australia battles catastrophic wildfires

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Christian Fernsby ▼ | December 21, 2019
New South Wales was paralysed by catastrophic fire conditions on Saturday amid soaring temperatures, while one person died as wildfires ravaged the country’s southeast, officials said.
New South Wales fire
Weather in Australia   New South Wales fire
“Catastrophic fire conditions are as bad as it gets,” New South Wales Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters. “Given we have a landscape with so much active fire burning, you have a recipe for very serious concern and a very dangerous day.” Areas in western Sydney were forecast to hit 4°C.

Topics: Australia fire

Cooler air was expected to move through New South Wales late Saturday, although authorities warned that strong winds could push fires in dangerous new directions.

New South Wales is in a seven-day state of emergency, with around 2,000 firefighters battling 100 wildfires.

Some major roads heading to the south and west from Sydney were closed for part of the day and authorities asked people to delay travel at the start of the Christmas holiday period, warning of the unpredictability of the fires due to high winds and temperatures above 40°C. A cooling but powerful wind with gusts of up to 90kph from the south swept through the state late on Saturday, lowering temperatures significantly but also creating risks that the winds could spread the flames and embers.

“Today has been an awful day,” NSW Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said of the conditions which were rated “catastrophic”, the highest level of danger.

Fitzsimmons said conditions in Sydney may not have reached forecast catastrophic levels, although they did elsewhere. He said the haze from the fires that has choked the city in recent weeks might have helped cap temperatures on Saturday by acting as insulation.