Sydney Witnesses Unprecedented Fire Menace As 130 Wildfires Devastate East Coast of Australia

For the first time, Sydney faces ‘catastrophic fire danger’ due to 130 and more wildfires that were burning on Australia’s East Coast Sunday, The Guardian reported. Three have been killed in the blazes, and at least 150 structures got destroyed so far. The greater Sydney area is threatened as conditions are expected to worsen Tuesday.

“Everybody has to be on alert no matter where you are and everybody has to assume the worst and we cannot allow complacency to creep in,” New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, according to Reuters.

Sydney, the capital of the southeastern Australian state of NSW, is the most populous city in Australia. On Tuesday, the temperatures expected to rise up to 37 degrees Celsius, which will combine with high winds to increase fire danger.

It is unusual for so many extreme fires to burst into flames so early in the season as firefighters and scientists have observed, The New York Times reported.

“The consequences are absolutely apparent and evident over the last few weeks and particularly highlighted in the last 24 hours,” Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons of the NSW Rural Fire Service told The New York Times. “We have got the worst of our fire season still ahead of us. We’re not even in summer yet.”

As per the scientists, Australia’s bushfires would be more frequent and more extreme due to climate crisis: Climate Council in Australia first warned in 2013 that climate change was already increasing the fire risk. The fires raged in some of the areas already affected as the country has been suffering from a drought.

However, political leaders in Australia dismissed concerns about climate change. This weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison,  the supporter of the coal industry, refused to answer questions on the connection between climate change and the recent fires, Reuters reported.

Besides, climate activists were accused by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack on Monday for politicizing the sufferings of fire victims.

“They don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time, when they’re trying to save their homes,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) radio, as Reuters reported.

Greg Mullins, the former Fire, and Rescue NSW Commissioner, and Climate Council member opposed the idea that it was inappropriate to discuss climate crisis while fires were burning in an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald Monday.

“In the past I have heard some federal politicians dodge the question of the influence of climate change on extreme weather and fires by saying, ‘It’s terrible that this matter is being raised while the fires are still burning.’ But if not now, then when?” he asked.

The fingerprints of climate change on the last two decades of Australian fires pointed out by Mullins are:

In NSW, our worst fire years were almost always during an El Niño event, and major property losses generally occurred from late November to February. Based on more than a century of weather observations, our official fire danger season is legislated from October 1 to March 31. During the 2000s, though, major fires have regularly started in August and September and sometimes go through to April.

The October 2013 fires that destroyed more than 200 homes were the earliest large-loss fires in NSW history – again, not during an El Niño.

This year, by the beginning of November, we had already lost about as many homes as during the disastrous 2001-2002 bushfire season. We’ve now eclipsed 1994 fire losses.

This year’s drought was more intense, according to Mullins, compared to a major drought in the 2000s, and this year’s wildfires were also far more devastating, which did not often occur when he was fighting fires. Now the fires were burning in new areas like rainforests in NSW and Queensland.

Terri Nicholson watched the fire menaced rainforest directly from the property of her parents in Terania Creek. Around 40 years ago, her parents, Nan and Hugh Nicholson, were instrumental to a successful blockade that saved the forest from logging.

“Nan and Hugh Nicholson hosted the site of the Terania protest to defend this great rainforest from logging and now we’re here defending it due to the effects of climate change,” Nicholson told The Guardian. “I don’t even have the words right now. It’s just gobsmacking and distressing to witness.”

In NSW, near the town of Glen Innes, the deadliest fire raged, killing two people in that blaze, The New York Times reported. Friday, one woman was found unconscious and severely burned who died in the hospital. According to Radio New Zealand, the woman was a 69-year-old Vivian Chaplain, a grandmother of six who could not escape trying to protect her home. Saturday, another body found in a car, was identified as George Nole. Julie Fletcher, another woman, died north of Taree.

At least seven people are also reported missing from the fire near Glen Innes, as per The New York Times.

“People were burned, lives were lost,” Glen Innes Mayor Carol Sparks told The New York Times. “People battled to save their houses and then had to walk out because their cars had blown up — it was just horrific.”

Sunday, there were more fires, around 50 up, burning in the northeast state of Queensland that destroyed homes and thousands were forced to flee, The Guardian reported.

“Most people just want to go back home to see what’s actually happening. That’s making them very anxious. That’s what they’re telling us,” Red Cross Queensland’s emergency services manager Colin Sivalingum told the ABC, as The Guardian reported.

Arindom Ghosh

A professional writer, blogger, copywriter, and a member of the International Association of Professional Writers and Editors, New York. He has been part of many reputed domestic and global online magazines and publications. An avid reader and a nature lover by heart, when he is not working, he is probably exploring the secrets of life.