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Australia declares fresh state of emergency over fires

December 19, 2019

New South Wales has declared a second state of emergency as devastating fires continue to wreak havoc. Officials have warned holidaymakers to consider new plans as the emergency measures stretch beyond Christmas.

Fires continue to rage in Australia. Image from December 15 in New South Wales.
Image: Reuters/A. Mitchell

The Australian state of New South Wales declared a second state of emergency in two months on Thursday as bushfires continue to rage and temperatures broke records for the second consecutive day.

Australia's national average hit 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.4 Fahrenheit) on Thursday, breaking the previous day's record-breaking 40.9 degrees Celsius.

Authorities are especially concerned about fires near the city of Sydney as nearly 100 bushfires continue to burn in the eastern state.

"The biggest concern over the next few days is the unpredictability, with extreme wind conditions, extremely hot temperatures," State Premier Gladys Berejiklian told a news conference.

The state of emergency will last seven days, meaning that it will continue over Christmas. The last state of emergency was declared in mid-November due to "catastrophic" bushfire risk.

A charred kangaroo crosses a road in front of firefighters
Wildlife populations have been devastated by the firesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/AP/R. Rycroft

'Public health emergency'

More than 30,000 square kilometers (11,500 square miles) have burnt over the last few months in Australia's most populous state. Some 2,000 firefighters are currently battling the blazes.

"The worst of the fire weather conditions, the extreme fire danger ratings we are expecting today, are centered around the greater Sydney environment," said New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

The extreme weather has also led to health concerns over the smoke haze, labeled by Sydney doctors as a "public health emergency."

Hospitals have recorded large increases in emergency room visits for respiratory problems.

More than 70 fires are still raging across the state of Queensland, north of New South Wales.

'Where the bloody hell are you, Prime Minister?'

A few days after protests erupted in Sydney over initiating climate action in the face of the ongoing fires, schoolchildren gathered in Sydney to demand policy change on Thursday.

They met in front of Prime Minister Scott Morrison's Sydney residence.

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ed/se (Reuters, AFP)