'Catastrophic' conditions as bushfires rage in Australia

Sunbathers are seen on Bondi Beach as temperatures soar in Sydney on Saturday (Dec 21). Australia this week experienced its hottest day on record and the heatwave is expected to worsen, exacerbating an already unprecedented bushfire season, authorities said. - AFP

BARGO (Australia): A scorching heatwave intensified bushfires ravaging parts of Australia on Saturday (Dec 21), and out-of-control blazes surrounding Sydney worsened under "catastrophic" conditions.

Australia's eastern coast has been hit by a record-breaking heatwave, which has moved in from the west of the country, exacerbating hundreds of devastating fires in its path.

Sydney was shrouded in toxic smoke as blazes flared to its north, south and west, some just 130 kilometres (80 miles) from Australia's largest city.

"We are expecting very difficult circumstances, situations, in relation to all the fire fronts," New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

"As you know, it is a catastrophic condition, which means that at short notice, any fires active can become dangerous in a short time."

Australia endures bushfires every year but the early and intense start to this season, along with the record temperatures, has fuelled concerns about global warming.

Temperatures were expected to peak at 47 degrees Celsius in parts of the country's most populous state, New South Wales, with west Sydney expected to reach 37 C before a cool change is expected later in the day.

Evacuations were being carried out in the town of Bargo, on the front of a 185,000-hectare blaze which tore through the nearby area on Thursday.

"It's horrific, it's devastating driving around. We feel pretty isolated where we are with the roadblocks. Loved ones can't come and see us," Bargo resident Corey Cartes told AFP.

Cartes was told to leave two days ago, but has stayed behind to defend his property as the fire front on Thursday destroyed most of his fence.

"Everyone is offering to help, but there is nothing they can do. Not for us now, just stay out and stay safe and we hope the fireies (firefighters) can do their job."

In the state of South Australia, which in the past few days has borne the brunt of the heat wave, more than 1,500 firefighters have been battling fires that ripped through more than 40,000 hectares.

Two people died in fires there over the past two days, and dozens of firefighters have been treated for injuries and smoke inhalation.

At least three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has been torched across the country in recent months, with at least 10 people killed and more than 800 homes destroyed. - AFP
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