Severe heatwave conditions combined with “grotty” smoke pollution will put stress on vulnerable people in the coming days, authorities have warned.
The haze may cause breathing issues for those with heart or lung disease, while Sydneysiders have been encouraged to stay indoors and avoid exercise.
NSW Health environmental health director Dr Richard Broome said Tuesday would be “very hot and very smoky”.
“It’s going to be putting a lot of stress on vulnerable people, particularly elderly people who have existing heart and lung conditions,” Broome told reporters.
Morrison rejects calls for more assistance for firefighters
Asked about concerns about the time that volunteer firefighters are being asked to continue volunteering without pay, and reports they’re crowd-sourcing funds for water and food on the ground, the prime minister Scott Morrison rejected the suggestion the federal government could do more.
Speaking in Sydney a few minutes ago Morrison said:
No, I don’t share that view because I know what the practice is and I know what the experience is and I know what’s happening on the ground and I know that whether it’s the ADF or any other agency of the Commonwealth, all of those agencies, our efforts have been channelled and coordinated [into] the response of the state and territory staff on the ground. That is what is set up. That is what was intended to be set up and that is operating and I’m pleased with the way those arrangements are being worked out and if there is any other matter that would need to be addressed, it would be raised with the Commonwealth, because there is a direct line to make sure that happens.
He also rejected suggestions the country’s volunteer firefighting forces should be professionalised:
We are constantly looking at ways to better facilitate the volunteer effort, but to professionalise that at that scale is not a matter that has previously been accepted and it’s not currently under consideration by the government. But as is the case with all fire events, or as is the case with all flood events and other natural disasters, this nationally coordinated effort is designed to constantly look at those issues, post these events.
Smoke alarms prompt evacuations across Sydney
Smoke alarms continue to go off at random because of the thick smoke covering so much of Sydney and the rest of the state.
Parts of the University of New South Wales have had to be evacuated, as has Fisher Library at the University of Sydney and the ABC’s Central Coast studio which has been evacuated twice on Tuesday morning.
Evacuated from Fisher Library due to the smog – this is very much not great. pic.twitter.com/XLd4wDlXej
— Dr Alix Thoeming (@alix_thoeming) December 10, 2019
Elsewhere, fog horns are going off across Sydney harbour as ferries try to find their way through the thick haze.
Air quality across NSW continues to decline.
By 9am PM2.5 fine particle readings had reached “very poor” to “hazardous” in much of Sydney, the Hunter and central coast and Illawarra regions.
The worst readings, between 262 and 337 on the air quality index over a 24-hour rolling average, have been in the north-west around Richmond and St Marys. Some parts of Sydney have recorded levels of 1789 on the index, where anything above 200 is considered hazardous.
Most of the upper Hunter, and the central, southern and northern tablelands are also experiencing hazardous air quality, according to the Department of Planning and Environment.
If you’re unfamiliar with what a PM2.5 fine particle is, my colleague Naaman Zhou has helpfully explained it here:
The Green Wattle Creek fire burning in Wollondilly west of Sydney has now been upgraded to watch and act. The fire has already burned through about 100,000 hectares.
The RFS says the fire is burning on both sides of Lake Burragorang and that activity is increasing across the fireground.
Rural Fire Service headquarters evacuated due to heavy smoke
Quite a few reports of this today, now it appears the RFS headquarters in Sydney has been briefly evacuated after smoke alarms were triggered.
Meanwhile in Victoria there are still 12 bushfires burning, with evacuation warnings still in place in the state’s East Gippsland region.
A watch-and-act warning remains in place for residents on the Timbarra settlement, about 340km north-east of Melbourne, after a blaze began during Monday’s extreme heat.
“Don’t wait, leaving now is the safest option – conditions may change and get worse very quickly,” the warning reads on Tuesday morning.
A bushfire directly south of Timbarra, in the town of Ensay, is also out of control with a watch-and-act warning in place for residents in Ensay North, Holstons and Reedy Flat.
About 100 firefighters are working to put out the blaze, with an emergency warning downgraded overnight, AAP reports.
Another 10 bushfires are burning across the state, covering about 47,000 hectares, according to the Country Fire Authority.
“The fires mainly cover remote forest regions, where extreme dryness and rough terrain is making it difficult for firefighters to reach,” a spokeswoman said.
Northern and north-east Victoria remains at very high bushfire risk despite the cool change overnight.
The Gospers Mountain fire has already merged with the fire at Kerry Ridge further north, but as the RFS map shows there is a real possibility that it could also join with the fire at Three Mile Creek. That would create a huge fire front for firefighters.
Two more blazes – the Kerry Ridge fire near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley and the Three Mile fire on the central coast – have been upgraded to watch and act by the Rural Fire Service.
The Three Mile fire has merged with the separate Wrights Creek fire. The RFS says the fire is increasing in the area of Bloodtree Road at Kulnur.
The Kerry Ridge fire continues to burn within the Wollemi national park but has now moved east into the Putty state forest, as well as west into the Coricudgy state forest. The RFS says the blaze, in combination with the Gospers Mountain fire, has moved towards some isolated rural properties.
First fire upgraded to watch and act
The NSW Rural Fire Service has updated the status of the mega blaze at Gospers Mountain on the central coast to watch and act, saying activity has “increased across the fireground”.
There are a number of fires burning across the Hawkesbury, including at Gospers Mountain where the fire is burning between Newnes and Wisemans Ferry, Putty (St Albans) and Central Colo. The fire has burned through more than 319,000 hectares.
“Conditions are expected to deteriorate today. This may see the fire spread to the east and north following a southerly change,” the RFS says.
The smoke isn’t just affecting Sydney, believe it or not. Here’s two pictures of the same view across the Hawkesbury River on the NSW central coast. The first, which shows backburning operations, was taken last night. The second, which shows nothing, is from this morning.