Firefighters in New South Wales are still battling the worst blazes in a decade, working through the weekend to bring them under control ahead of deteriorating weather conditions.
Here’s what you need to know about the crisis:
- New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell has declared a state of emergency, which lasts for 30 days
- It means emergency services officers can forcibly evacuate residents, as well as giving them other additional powers
- The biggest fear this morning is that three of the major fire fronts in the Blue Mountains – at Springwood, Lithgow and Mount Victoria – could merge
- Weather conditions are expected to be worst on Wednesday, when winds could reach speeds of 100kms per hour
- A total of 56 bushfires are burning across the state and 12 are out of control
O’Farrell said at the weekend that the extra powers were necessary to ensure crews were able to deal with the disaster. the last time a state of emergency was declared was in March this year, after flooding effected areas of the state.
“We’re not sure what’s going to happen over the next few days,” he said according to ABC News. “The only thing I’m convinced about is we will get through it.”
“But this is another guarantee we will get through it, because it will give the state’s emergency services any additional powers they require under this legislation.
“These powers include the right to order the public to leave or enter areas, shore up or demolish buildings, and prevent people disobeying an order given under these powers.”
The most notable power granted through the declaration is the ability for residents to be forcibly removed.
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke said it should not be necessary if people cooperate, but that the police are prepared move people if they need to.
“Those that can help themselves, we are going to give them all the information we can so they can make a responsible decision early,” he said according to The ABC.
“We will do forced evacuations if necessary, but they should be risk based.
“At the end of the day, we hope we have buildings standing. But if we don’t have buildings standing we don’t want bodies in them.”
Some residents in the Blue Mountains have voiced frustration in television interviews, saying they would have been able to save their houses if it were not for advice from the Rural Fire Service to evacuate, which they described as hasty.
One fatality has already been confirmed after a 63-year-old man collapsed while trying to defend his property in the Blue Mountains. Police have said they fear there could be more dead once all burned-out buildings are searched.
At its latest count the damage bill is estimated to be around $43 million, though that figure is expected to increase sharply. The official NSW property toll is 208 homes destroyed and 122 damaged.
At the weekend the Rural Fire Service advised residents to remain calm, after speculation a mass evacuation of the Blue Mountains may become necessary.
Officials have said advice will be tailored to individual communities, calling for residents to remain alert.
Despite the destruction, the efforts of that state’s firefighters have given New South Wales cause for pride, as tales of heroism begin to emerge.
There are reports some volunteers lost their own homes while battling the blazes, and a number of images have emerged on social media which show the results of their brave efforts.
We will have all the details as they come to hand.
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