News24

Warnings as Aus bushfires flare

2009-11-20 11:00

Sydney - Australian firefighters battled dozens of bush blazes on Friday as record-breaking hot weather sparked "catastrophic" warnings in two states, just months after the country's worst ever wildfire disaster.

Some 25 000 lightning strikes set off about 100 blazes in South Australia state alone, most of which had since burned out.

Meanwhile emergency crews were battling 34 fires in New South Wales, some on the outskirts of Sydney, the Rural Fire Service (RFS) said. More than a quarter of the state was considered at catastrophic risk.

Hundred-year records tumbled this week as the south and south-east sweltered through a heatwave which dried out vast tracts of bush and farmland already in the grip of a decade-long drought.

The first "catastrophic" or "Code Red" warnings - a new category introduced after February's deadly Black Saturday fires - have been declared in parts of the two states, under which residents are strongly advised to flee their homes.

Code Red conditions are considered on a par with those experienced ahead of Black Saturday, Australia's worst disaster of modern times which killed 173 in the state of Victoria and razed more than 2 000 homes.

"Homes are not designed and planned to withstand conditions typically with this sort of rating," said RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

"The very hot temperatures we've seen across New South Wales right throughout this last week are simply breaking hundred-year records," he added.

Residents cannot be forcibly evacuated but are strongly advised to leave their property on a Code Red day, which signifies a high risk of death or injury and destruction.

Meanwhile more fires spread across rural parts of Victoria state and have consumed more than 200 hectares of bushland.

Australia is facing its worst fire danger in four years, with hotter and windier conditions and earlier than normal outbreaks forecast, according to government analysis published on Friday.

"What we saw on (Black Saturday) was an extraordinary day from a weather point of view. We are starting to see those sort of days more frequently," said fire expert Kevin Tolhurst.