High alert in Australia: Numerous runaway bushfires are currently holding firefighters and residents of the states of New South Wales and Queensland in suspense. "We've never had so many contemporaneous bushfires at disaster level," said fire fighter Shane Fitzsimmons on Friday. In some areas, the inhabitants were cut off from escape routes.
The amount of bushfires is "new territory" for the forces, said Fitzsimmons. The fire brigade was almost overwhelmed to fight so many fires at the same time.
Half of the koalas could be burned
The area affected by the bushfires is the natural habitat of koalas. Animal rights activists believe that up to half of the koalas could have been burned in the Lake Inn on the New South Wales coast. According to it, between 500 and 600 of the animals have lived there. But two-thirds of the habitat of the bag mammals fell victim to the flames. Occasionally, injured animals were rescued and taken to the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie.
About a hundred bushfires raged on Friday evening (local time) in the states of New South Wales and Queensland on a thousand-kilometer strip along the east coast. 17 of the fires could not bring the fire brigade under control yet. The task forces were among other things with 70 extinguishing aircraft in the employment. Despite reports of people trapped in burning buildings, the authorities have so far reported no deaths or injuries.
According to the fire department, the conditions were made even more difficult by strong winds that whirled burning debris through the air. These landed in balconies and front gardens, where they sparked more fires. Rescue teams ran from place to place to extinguish new fires. Gigantic clouds of smoke sometimes covered entire villages.
Residential areas were cut off from important escape routes because of the fires, according to authorities, the main highway between Sydney and Brisbane, the Pacific Highway, had to be temporarily closed. The police ordered the complete evacuation of the city of Tewantin in the Sunshine Coast region, home to some 4,500 people. In some regions, the authorities called on residents to "seek protection" because it was too late to leave the region.
Difficult and dangerous fire extinguisher
A fire brigade spokesman in New South Wales spoke of a "difficult and dangerous day" on Friday. "Many people have asked us for help, but given the scale and speed of the fires, we have not been able to reach everyone, not even by road or by helicopter," the spokesman said.
The local radio stations discontinued their regular program and instead provided tips for people stuck in the fire areas at home or in a vehicle.
Wind and heat should weaken
Given the weather forecast, the situation on the Australian east coast is likely to calm down. The strong wind and the heat should weaken according to weather forecast in the coming days. However, according to the authorities, the situation remains serious, given the continuing drought and low humidity. Firefighter spokesman Fitzsimmons warned on Friday of "very dynamic, unpredictable and dangerous circumstances".
The bushfires were preceded by an unusually long drought, strong wind, low humidity and high temperatures. For the upcoming summer in Australia, the country is preparing for record temperatures.