There is no relief for the devastating bushfires in Australia – on the contrary: the authorities warned of worsening weather conditions on Sunday; For the East Coast metropolis of Sydney they called the highest alert and diagnosed a "catastrophic" fire hazard. So far, three people have been killed in the flames nationwide, about 150 homes were destroyed.
One of the fatalities was found in one car, according to the emergency services, and another in a burned-out house near the town of Taree, New South Wales. In addition, a woman died despite hours of medical rescue efforts. The death toll could still increase, said the head of government of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian.
According to the fire department on Saturday, there were more than 30 injured, most of them firefighters. Thousands of inhabitants of the affected areas had to leave their homes. A fireman spoke of a "powder keg".
In the eastern states of New South Wales and Queensland, more than a hundred fires burned on Sunday, some of which were out of control. Large stretches of land in the affected regions in the east, but also in the state of Western Australia, prepared for dangerous conditions in the coming days. For the first time since the alert system was introduced in 2009, Sydney has been predicted a "catastrophic" fire hazard – the highest possible level.
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Especially affected in recent days was the city of Taree. Mayor Carol Sparks told broadcaster ABC that residents are traumatized. "The flames were six meters high and raged at 80 kilometers per hour."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the high number of bushfires "incredibly disturbing." He was afraid that there would be more deaths. He called on the population to get to safety and to follow the instructions of the emergency services. Local radio stations interrupted their normal program and sent instructions on how residents stuck in homes and vehicles could try to protect themselves from flames.
Several schools were also on fire at the weekend. According to authorities, emergency shelters and retirement homes had to be evacuated. In some areas, residents were cut off from escape routes and were therefore called to seek shelter somewhere. "Unfortunately, many people called for help, but because of the size and speed of the fires, we could not get anywhere, not even on roads or in helicopters," said the New South Wales Fire Department.
In Queensland alone, where the state of emergency was declared, more than 1,200 firefighters fought 50 fires on Sunday. Queensland usually has "no such fire season as we experienced this year and last year," said state governor Annastacia Palaszczuk.
The bushfires were preceded by an unusually long drought, strong wind, low humidity and high temperatures. Record temperatures are expected for the upcoming summer in Australia.