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Canberra declares state of emergency

January 31, 2020

An out-of-control bushfire presents an immediate threat to the Australian capital and the surrounding regions. Fires in Australia have killed 33 people and an estimated 1 billion animals since September.

Aircraft dropping fire retardant on fire near Canberra
Image: Getty Images/B. Mitchell

Australian officials on Friday declared a state of emergency in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), including for the national capital of Canberra, as a large bushfire threatens to become uncontrollable amid high temperatures and strong winds.

"The combination of extreme heat, wind and a dry landscape will place suburbs in Canberra's south at risk," the territory's Chief Minister Andrew Barr told reporters.

Road block in Australia
Authorities are being forced to close off roadsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/AAP/M. Tsikas

The declaration is the first of its kind in the ACT since fires in 2003 that burned more than two-thirds of the territory's total land area, killing four people and destroying 470 homes.

The current fire has grown to 185,500 hectares (458,380 acres), or 8% of the ACT's total land area.

The state of emergency, which will run for 72 hours,  will give authorities greater powers to order evacuations, close roads and take control of private property.

Read more: Australian bushfires: The canary building the coal mine 

A country on fire

Some 100 fires are also burning elsewhere in the country, including 58 active blazes in the surrounding state of New South Wales, 20 in the southeastern state of Victoria and 20 in South Australia.

Temperatures across NSW and Victoria were forecast to reach 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) going into the weekend.

Australia's current fire season began months earlier than has been the case in previous years, with blazes across its east coast since September killing 33 people, burning out more than 11.7 million hectares and destroying more than 2,500 homes.

Scientists say climate change is likely to be a major factor driving the fires.

Read more: Australia bushfires send CO2 levels soaring

tj/rt (Reuters, dpa)

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