Around Asia: State of emergency declared after bush fires hit New South Wales

A state of emergency has been declared in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, after raging wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes with no signs the blaze would die down in the coming days.

Premier Barry O’Farrell on Sunday declared a state of emergency across New South Wales for the next 30 days as firefighters struggled to stamp out the bushfires from spreading to the entire Blue Mountains area as well as Penrith and Richmond.

On Monday morning, at least 56 unrelenting blazes have ravaged more than 109,000 hectares (269,000 acres), said Matt Sun, spokesman for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. Twelve of the fires are out of control, officials said.

Tens of thousands were forced to evacuate as conditions look set to worsen, with soaring temperatures and dry winds expected to sweep the state by Wednesday.

“We’re coming out of a very dry winter, we haven’t had a lot of rain for many months,” said Joel Kursawe, another fire service spokesman.

The fires had destroyed a total of 208 homes and damaged another 122 across eastern Australia, the Rural Fire Service said.

A hospital in Blue Mountains, one of the worst-hit regions in New South Wales, was evacuated on Saturday and patients were transported to a Sydney hospital.

In Springwood, the fires destroyed at least 193 homes and damaged another 109, officials said. Seven homes have been destroyed and one damaged in Mount Victoria.

Alex Chesser, a spokesman for the Rural Fire Service, said there is the potential for three fires in that region to merge, posing potential hazards to thousands of residents in nearby suburbs.

“We’ll be watching the weather closely over the next three days,” Chesser said.

Arson investigators are examining the origins of several of more than 100 fires that have threatened towns surrounding Sydney.

The blazes have come unusually early in the season and are some of the most destructive wildfires to ever strike Australia.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: iansand/Flickr

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