AUSTRALIA – Hundreds of bushfires are raging across Australia, with hotspots in every state.
And a fire tracker map maintained by researchers in Western Australia, shows that they are also threatening areas around every major city in the country.
On Friday night, an emergency warning was in place for a fire near Mount Mercer outside Melbourne and authorities warned residents of Cainbable, about 60 miles south of Brisbane, to take precautions against a bushfire burning there.
And it’s only going to get worse in the coming days as hot, windy conditions are expected in parts of the country on Saturday, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
A map from researchers in Western Australia shows hundreds of bushfire hotspots across the nation as of Friday, Dec. 20, 2019.
“When you have very hot, dry, windy conditions, if all of those things come together, a fire can get quickly out of control,” Lesley Hughes, with the environmental group Climate Council of Australia, tells TIME.
“As the climate is warming up, we’re getting more and more extreme hot days and currently, of course, Australia is in the grip of probably unprecedented heatwave conditions almost right across the continent.”
Despite the bushfire crisis, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has argued that there is no direct link between Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and the severity of the fires burning across the country. However, he acknowledged that climate change could be impacting bushfires. Australia is one of the highest per capita emitters of carbon dioxide in the world, according to Climate Analytics, an advocacy group that tracks climate data.
The Prime Minister cut short his family holiday on Friday and apologized after two firefighters were killed battling bushfires in New South Wales.
Peter Dunn, a former commissioner for the Australian Capital Territory Emergency Services Authority and a member of advocacy group Emergency Leaders for Climate Action tells TIME that people are preparing for the worst.
“Everyone is very nervous about it,” he says. Dunn is taking personal precautions to try to ensure the safety of his home, which is on the south coast in New South Wales. “I was just outside moving away some old embers and burnt leaves off the front of our property,” he said. “We’ve got fires on all sides of us.”
In New South Wales, where Sydney is located, firefighters are battling more than 100 fires, according to the state’s Rural Fire Service. State authorities declared a state of emergency on Thursday.
A Catastrophic Fire Danger alert has been issued for Saturday for many parts of New South Wales in eastern Australia, including the Sydney area. Several other areas are under “extreme” fire danger alerts.
People in Sydney posted photos this week of haze enveloping the city.
Bushfires burned in all directions outside of Sydney, including a fire near the Blue Mountains which has already destroyed an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.
Seven major bushfires were also burning across Southern Australia on Friday, including a massive fire which started in Cudlee Creek, a small town near Adelaide, reports the Adelaide Advertiser.
The South Australian Country Fire Services warned those in the area near Cudlee Creek to take shelter.
Several fires burned around Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city.
Hughes tells TIME that the widespread bushfire crisis has made climate change a reality for many Australians.