Officials advised Sydney residents to stay indoors as parts of Australia's most populous city were covered in smoke from nearby bushfires. Firefighters warned that more hot and windy days were on the way.
Air pollution in Sydney reached "hazardous" levels on Tuesday, as the Gospers Mountain Fire was skirting the city's northwest. With smoke hanging over the city, medical officials urged the residents to avoid going outside.
"For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat. However, people with conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina are more likely to be sensitive to the health effects of smoke," said Richard Broom, director of Environmental Health from the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW), where Sydney is located.
At least six people have lost their lives and hundreds of homes have been destroyed since the start of the fire season in September. While bushfires are common in Australia, the fire season has been starting earlier and fires have been growing more destructive in recent years — a development many experts link with climate change.
More wind, more heat
Authorities estimate over 110 wildfires are burning in eastern Australia. The states of Queensland and NSW declared a state of emergency, with firefighters and emergency services unable to cope with the scale of the problem. Dozens of blazes remain uncontained.
"More than 1,300 firefighters are working on these fires, undertaking backburning operations and strengthening containment lines ahead of forecast hot, dry and windy weather," the NSW Rural Fire Service said in a statement.
Officials expect the temperatures to soar to about 40 degrees Celsius on Wednesday. The wind is also expected to pick up in the coming days, making the conditions even more difficult for the firefighters.
Last week, NSW fire commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said that fires would likely continue to burn "for many, many weeks" unless there was a surprise rainfall. However, weather experts see little chance of rain with summer looming in Australia.
dj/dr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)