'Catastrophic' bushfires threaten 100,000 Sydney homes after sweeping through New South Wales and Queensland in harsh conditions

Fires are burning across New South Wales and Queensland. (Photo by Orbital Horizon, Copernicus Sentinel Data, Gallo Images via Getty Images)
  • The worst fire conditions since Black Saturday are being witnessed as fires rage around New South Wales and Queensland.
  • States of fire emergency have accordingly been declared, as fires threaten some 100,000 homes across Greater Sydney, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains.
  • Black Saturday killed 173 people and is conservatively estimated to have cost more than $4.4 billion.

Australian fire conditions are now at their worst since the cataclysmic Black Saturday bushfires ravaged Victoria.

With a number of fires burning throughout New South Wales and in south-east Queensland on Tuesday, the warning issued by authorities could hardly be starker.

“NSW is on track to experience the fire conditions predicted. Catastrophic fire danger is forecast for Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter & Illawarra/Shoalhaven,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service tweeted. “There is widespread ‘Severe & Extreme’ fire danger. [As of] 9 am, there are 57 fires, 28 are uncontained.”

Both states have had states of fire emergency declared fires services to use private property to fight the blaze, with Catastrophic fire conditions present. Those include dangerous dry and gusty winds, allowing fires to quickly change direction and hamper efforts to control them. Victoria for its part has been warned of a heatwave worse than the one that helped fuel the 2009 fires.

The highest ‘Catastrophic’ fire danger rating was introduced following Black Saturday in 2009 – classified as one of the country’s worst natural disasters. It claimed 173 lives, injured more than 400, and burned some 450,000 hectares of land.

Worryingly then, on Tuesday that catastrophic rating was extended to some of the most populous parts of the state, including Greater Sydney, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains. A total fire ban is in effect across the entire state.

In the Sydney area alone, some 100,000 homes within 100 metres of bush are at risk, according to analysis by consultancy group Risk Frontiers. Suburbs like Engadine, Menai, Hornsby were classified as high-risk, with more than 30,000 properties on Sydney’s north shore also exposed. Further afield, thousands of homes in Springwood in the Blue Mountains and Gosford on the Central Coast are also vulnerable.

The severity of conditions, the number of fires burning, and the sheer scale of properties and lives at risk has spurred comparisons to the 2009 fires, which destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

The Bushfires Royal Commission that followed estimated the “conservative” cost of Black Saturday to have been $4.4 billion, including $1.2 billion of insurance payouts, largely made up of property and content claims. It total figure did not, however, touch agricultural destruction, or uninsured property.

This year’s fires, however, are now threatening far more populous areas, with conditions showing no sign of abating.

While acknowledging the dangers, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the Defence Department was ready to intervene and that as much as possible, authorities had prepared for today.

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