Sydney has been blanketed in thick smoke as fire dangers ramp up once more on Tuesday, with Australia’s east coast facing sweltering conditions with little-to-no rain in sight.
Sydneysiders woke to alarming scenes as thick smoke filled the air, severely reducing visibility and increasing health risks.
Remarkable images from Sydney Harbour showed how landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House were almost hidden in conditions more associated with heavily-polluted cities such as Beijing and Jakarta.
Winds dragged smoke from a huge fire at Gospers Mountain, northwest of Sydney, over the city on Tuesday morning, with the haze only dissipating once a southerly change hits in the afternoon.
The air quality rating is poor and people with asthma or other breathing issues are being warned to stay indoors, avoid outdoor exercise and seek medical advice as needed.
What harbour bridge? Sydney smoke haze at extreme level. Can’t even see CBD from Yarranabbe Park. Pack your asthma puffer this morning. pic.twitter.com/HK6dd41olx— Nick D-M (@NickDM) November 18, 2019
Train trip from Newcastle to Sydney this morning is like travelling through purgatory. The #bushfires smoke is thick. People rubbing their eyes & looking downhearted. But #NowIsNotTheTime #auspol #ClimateEmergency— 🍑💧Rudy Terwilliger (@wolftickler2000) November 18, 2019
NSW fire threat ramps up once more
Most of NSW's east coast is under severe or very high fire danger as the state heads into the first of two "tough days" for the week with temperatures likely to rise into the 40s in some parts of the state.
Six lives and 530 homes have been lost since the state's bushfire season hit some weeks ago, with more than 420 homes destroyed in the past fortnight alone.
On Monday night there were 51 grass and bushfires burning around NSW, all at "advice" level, with 28 yet to be contained, the RFS posted on Twitter.
"More than 1300 firefighters continue work on these fires tonight, ahead of forecast hot, dry and windy conditions tomorrow," the agency said on Monday.
Tuesday and Thursday will be "tough days", Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers told reporters in Sydney on Monday.
Parts of the state are under severe fire danger on Tuesday including Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter, Illawarra/Shoalhaven, Southern Ranges and Central Ranges fire regions.
These regions, along with the Northern Slopes and North Western regions, are also under a total fire ban.
Much of the rest of eastern NSW and the ACT is under very high fire danger.
Mr Rogers said some 1.6 million hectares of land have been lost so far – more land loss than the entire 1993/1994 season.
Firefighters were on Monday battling a firefront of some 6000 kilometres, the equivalent distance of a return Sydney-Perth trip, he said.
Mr Rogers said firefighters were "singularly focused" on preventing further loss of life and property and warned people to stay alert.
"Even though it's not a catastrophic danger (this week) it's still going to be bad fire days," he said.
He urged anyone who had not yet been affected by bushfires to "please use this as a wake-up call", warning them to take steps including cleaning out gutters and having a fire safety plan in place.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian asked everyone to "maintain their vigilance".
Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said the biggest risk in the coming days would be firefighters becoming fatigued.
A DC10 air tanker had been drafted in from North America to help drop up to 38,000 litres of water and retardant on blazes, and efforts will be bolstered by help from New Zealand firefighters, he said.
At 9:15pm, all 51 bush or grass fires burning across NSW are at the Advice alert level, with 28 yet to be contained. More than 1300 firefighters continue work on these fires tonight, ahead of forecast hot, dry and windy conditions tomorrow. #NSWRFS pic.twitter.com/NpHRs9wwtg— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) November 18, 2019
Queensland bushfires rage on in ‘perfect storm’
Heatwave conditions are expected to hit the state on Wednesday as hot winds sweep across the southern interior, according to the weather bureau.
The temperatures will ramp up the fire danger as residents in the path of a monster fire fled as the blaze closed in on the town of Crows Nest, north of Toowoomba, on Monday.
The massive fire in the Pechey State Forest has tripled in size forcing schools and businesses to close with reports up to five homes have been lost.
Toowoomba Region Mayor Paul Antonio told AAP the fire threat was at emergency level.
"I have never seen a scenario like this – it's a perfect storm," Mr Antonio said.
He said the coming heatwave would be a "massive problem".
"As of Monday morning, the 14,000 hectares of land had been burned out. That is expanding by the minute.
"This fire is out of control, we are doing all we can to contain it, but we will not risk limb and life."
The monster fire has been burning for days, causing severe damage to the water supply to Toowoomba and a dozen surrounding smaller communities.
Residents are restricted to domestic water use only as the council works to repair the network damage with water supply for firefighters the priority.
At a town meeting in Crows Nest on Monday evening, RFS acting inspector John Welke said conditions had "eased significantly" for firefighters as evening arrived, the Courier Mail reported.
"We're expecting the fire intensity in that area to decrease significantly tonight," Mr Welke said.
The state's bushfire crisis has entered its second week, with more than 80 fires burning across the state.
Some five new firefighting injuries have been reported since 2pm on Sunday, however these are minor and include smoke inhalation and a twisted ankle.
More than 158,000 hectares has been burnt and 16 homes have been lost.
On Moreton Island, campers – including some schoolies – left isolated northern campgrounds after lightning started a fire on Saturday.
Authorities are also watching a cluster of difficult blazes in the Border Ranges region, from Cunninghams Gap and Spicers Gap south to Mount Barney and Mount Lindsay.
Some of those fires have been burning for weeks and every time strong winds arrive, as they did at the weekend, they are pushed uphill and into steep terrain that crews cannot access.
Other major fires at Cobraball, west of Yeppoon, and at Woodgate, south of Bundaberg, are mostly contained after a weekend of hard work by fire crews.
Total fire ban for South Australia
A total fire ban has been declared for South Australia on Tuesday ahead of a day of potentially catastrophic fire conditions on Wednesday.
While the temperature in Adelaide is expected to hit 30 on Tuesday, the CFS says fire bans have been issued because a bushfire on Wednesday could not be controlled.
The temperature on that day is expected to reach 42 in Adelaide, 45 at Ceduna, 44 at Murray Bridge, Whyalla and Port Lincoln, and 43 at Port Pirie.
"We are putting restrictions on activities on Tuesday to minimise the risk of fires starting, which may not be fully extinguished by Wednesday," CFS chief officer Mark Jones said.
"A rekindled burn off on Wednesday would create dangerous conditions for our firefighters so we are not prepared to put them or the community at unnecessary risk."
Bureau of Meteorology acting supervising meteorologist Paul Lainio said several November heat records could fall.
"Wednesday's forecast for Adelaide at this stage is 42, just shy of West Terrace's hottest November day in 1962 on November 30 of 42.7C," he said.
"Across South Australia, temperatures on Wednesday will peak 8 to 18C above average ahead of a cold front that's accompanied with strong winds.
"Those towns that may break temperature records are in the south and west of the state and include Victor Harbor, Nuriootpa, Keith, Naracoorte, Murray Bridge and Robe and Lameroo."
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.