Australia– Eastern Australia remained ablaze yesterday as thousands of lightning strikes ignited parched grass and bushland in a nightmare opening to the summer.
A cooler change and some rain helped ease conditions in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales yesterday, but large fires were still racing out of control and fire teams were hard pressed to contain others.
Huge areas of western NSW were yesterday declared to be “catastrophic” fire risks, prompting authorities to warn people living in threatened areas to leave their homes and find safety elsewhere.
“Simply, be smart,” Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. “Plan your day. Plan to go to town. Go to a friend’s place who doesn’t live in a bushfire-prone area. Go to the pool. Do something for the heat of the day to avoid being in a bushfire-prone area, just to give you the best chance of survival.”
With temperatures in the 40s and hot, strong winds, even homes designed to resist bushfires could be engulfed by flames racing unpredictably at high speed, and beyond control.
Elsewhere, the fire danger across most of the three states and the Australian Capital Territory was rated very high to extreme.
So far, advance planning, rapid response and huge effort by firefighters have kept fires away from towns and farm buildings, despite winds pushing fronts close to homes in a number of areas.
In NSW, firefighters backed by bulldozers and aircraft were late yesterday battling more than 20 outbreaks in the central west and north of the state, and near Sydney.
Some, close to major centres such as Glen Innes, Inverell and Narrabri, were causing fire teams concern.
In South Australia, firefighters have been called to more than 100 outbreaks, some burning close to homes before they were brought under control, including one in the Clare Valley that was being driven towards a community of about 20 houses.
As lightning knocked out electricity in areas of the Yorke Peninsula where fires were already burning, authorities rapidly switched teams from area to area in a race to keep ahead of new outbreaks.
Late yesterday, with a cooler change, the Country Fire Service said it appeared to be containing most blazes.
Firefighters were also busy in the far west of Victoria.
The Country Fire Authority sent 16 tankers, with bulldozers and aircraft, to a fire burning through the Cobboboonee National Park near Portland. Late yesterday they were also battling a fire in a pine plantation at Dorodong, close to the South Australian border.