A giant bushfire on the edge of Sydney, which has blanketed the city in smoke causing a spike in respiratory illnesses and the cancelation of outdoor sports, will take weeks to control, but will not be extinguished without heavy rain, firefighters said yesterday.
Thousands of weary firefighters, who have been battling bushfires for a month, were fighting nearly 100 blazes in New South Wales.
The mega-fire north of Sydney, Australia’s largest city, was created on Friday when several fires merged and was burning across 335,000 hectares.
The pilot of a helicopter supporting the fire efforts was lucky to escape with just minor injuries after crashing about 200km north of the city yesterday.
A shipping container full of fireworks exploded as the fire raged, authorities said.
There were no immediate reports of injuries from the explosion.
“We need flooding rain to put these fires out. That’s really what is going to stop it,” the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said. “These will take many weeks to put out.”
Bushfires are common in Australia during the summer, which begins in December, but this year the fires started much earlier, blamed on soaring temperatures, dry winds and arson.
A three-year drought has left much of Australia tinder dry.
The fires around Sydney have been pumping such vast amounts of smoke into the air that they appear as significant rain on the radars, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said on Twitter.
New South Wales Health on Friday said that about 1,140 people had sought medical assistance for breathing issues or asthma in the past week — a quarter more than in a typical week.
New South Wales Ambulance fielded about one-third more calls.
Six people have been killed, nearly 700 houses burned down and millions of hectares of land razed.
Strong winds fanned flames toward several suburbs in southwest Sydney yesterday.
“It’s been going on all day, a fire came from the back and we put it out, but then another one came from the side so the firies [firefighters] covered the house in foam,” said Luke Wright, who helped save his brother’s home.
“The fence has been damaged, but that’s about it, very lucky,” Wright told local media.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said that the worst might still be ahead, with temperatures forecast to rise to 40°C in the next few days and no meaningful rainfall expected until late next month.
“It’s a tough couple of months ahead yet and we’ve already seen the horrific consequences of fire so far this season,” Fitzsimmons told Australia’s 9News.
Easing conditions overnight provided brief respite in the state and allowed for controlled burning to prevent damage during the anticipated heat wave.
Queensland was yesterday battling about 45 bushfires in temperatures as high as 40°C.
Additional reporting by AFP
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