Australians urged to evacuate homes as high winds fan fires
Fires on the border of Victoria and New South Wales are poised to merge and create a blaze almost 600,000ha in size
Sydney — Australian authorities urged nearly a quarter of a million people to evacuate their homes on Friday and prepared military backup as soaring temperatures and erratic winds fanned bushfires across the east coast.
Temperatures were expected to shoot well above 40ºC in several parts of the country, accompanied by high winds, threatening to fuel fires that have already left thousands of people homeless.
In the country’s alpine region on the border of Victoria and New South Wales states, two fires were poised to merge and create a blaze almost 600,000ha in size.
“If you can get out, you should get out, you shouldn't be in the remote and forested parts of our state," Andrew Crisp, emergency management commissioner for the state of Victoria, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Emergency alert text messages were sent to 240,000 people in Victoria state alone, telling them to leave, Crisp said. People in high-risk regions in New South Wales and South Australia states were also urged to think about leaving, but authorities had not provided numbers.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had given instructions to the military so “that they are to stand ready to move and support immediately."
John White, mayor of East Gippsland, an area that was ravaged by fires on New Year’s Eve, told Reuters that residents were on the move: “People aren’t taking any chances."
Authorities said that conditions would continue to deteriorate across Victoria into the evening as heavy winds whip across the state. Those winds grounded military helicopters that had been assisting with evacuations and supply drops.
Twenty-seven people have been killed and thousands subjected to repeat evacuations as monster — and unpredictable — fires have scorched through more than 10.3-million hectares of land, an area the size of South Korea, since the start of October.
Campaigners have planned protests in several world cities, kicking off in Sydney and Melbourne later on Friday, to highlight their concerns about Australia’s climate change policies.