Fires have been raging in eastern Australia for days, and the extreme heat is said to continue. Now the authorities have declared a state of emergency for the Sydney region – for the first time in ten years.
By Holger Senzel, ARD Studio Singapore
The sky over the provinces of New South Wales and Queensland shines orange – the wall of flames hissing and eating its way through the dry bush is yellow-orange. The firefighters with their high-pressure hoses seem to make little impression on the flame roller – the water loads from the helicopters look like drops on hell.
Disaster warning for the Sydney area
One of the worst bushfires in Australia’s history raised the disaster warning for the Sydney area for the first time in ten years. The fires have claimed three lives so far. Over 1,000 firefighters with tankers, heavy clearance equipment and fire-fighting aircraft fight more than 60 fires – over half of them are out of control.
"The fire came racing out of nowhere," says a man on the Australian television station ABC, visibly shaken. "It was an inferno, the apocalypse, hell on earth. I’m sorry for all the people who lost their home, every second house on this street burned down. The whole neighboring village is completely gone. It’s horrible where to go people live now? "
Extreme heat is supposed to last
These fires are moving faster than you can run – authorities warn on the radio. People in vulnerable regions have been asked to leave their homes and go to larger cities. "The message," said Fire Department Chief Antony Clark, "is that if you need help, we may not be able to come to you."
Thousands stayed in shelters or outdoors – and returned this morning in smoking rubble. 850,000 hectares of land were devastated by the flames, that is more than three times the area of the Saarland. And the predictions for the coming days are extremely bad: Extreme heat and wind meet the worst drought in Australia in more than 50 years. Because last year Australia experienced the hottest summer since the weather began.
"Hotter, more intense and faster"
The bushfires would start earlier and earlier and they would get worse and worse, says Richard Thomson of the Australian Civil Protection Agency: "We see that the first fires already exist in August, September, which is officially still winter here. They are hotter, more intense and moving faster. And spread to regions where we would not have expected a fire, for example the edges of the rainforests. "
Many scientists see a connection between extreme weather conditions in Australia and climate change. But this is a sensitive topic in the country with the most climate skeptics in the world, where the coal industry plays such a big role.