Bushfires Stretch Along East Coast as Sydney and Hunter Region Warned of Extreme Fire Danger


Dozens of fires are burning across the east coast of Australia during the spring heatwave with residents forced to evacuate homes. There were 77 grass and bushland fires burning along the New South Wales coast on Wednesday afternoon, including 35 that were uncontained.

Only one fire’s warning was upgraded to the “watch and act” level, an out of control bushfire in the Snowy Monaro region, moving in a south-easterly direction. Extreme fire danger warnings were issued for greater Sydney and the Hunter region due to the hot and windy conditions.

Over 400 firefighters were battling blazes across NSW with total fire bans in place. Sydney was expected to break its September heat record on Wednesday afternoon, but temperatures peaked at 33.8C, a degree below what would have broken the record, and below the Bureau of Meteorology’s forecast of 35C. .

The current record for Observatory Hill is 34.6C set in September 1965 and matched on Tuesday. If that mark was surpassed it would have been the hottest September day since records began in 1859. The BoM on Tuesday declared that Australia was now in an El Niño climate pattern that would further increase the chances of a hot and dry summer and heighten the risk of dangerous bushfires.

The NSW premier, Chris Minns, warned the heat preceded what was expected to be a “really tough summer”. He warned communities needed to prepare. “It’s September and we’re already experiencing four days in a row of temperatures above 30C with high winds,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“We are concerned about summer. If you look at the [fuel] loads, particularly the Northern Rivers after the heavy rains and the floods of last year, they’ve got a lot to burn through up there. We’ve got great people on the ground but communities need to be ready.”

The Rural Fire Service’s Greg Allan was concerned the extreme heat and wind could exacerbate fires already burning. “We have concerns for every single fire, and a southerly change expected later today could fire activity on those fire grounds,” he said. “But what we don’t want to see today is new fires ahead of the really strong winds and high temperatures.”

A heatwave warning was issued by the BoM for the South Coast with maximum temperatures reaching the low to mid-30s on Tuesday and overnight minimum temperatures in the mid to high teens. Miriam Bradbury, a senior meteorologist with the BoM, said it was “unusual” for such high temperatures to persist for such a long time in early spring.

“We do sometimes get a few hot days coming through in September but usually they’re at the end of the month and they usually don’t hang around for a week and a half as this heat has,” Bradbury said. “However, we’ve been seeing this heat building for a while now. We saw pretty warm conditions coming through since about July and that’s continued through the later part of August and going into September.”

Bradbury said windy conditions coming off the ranges meant there was “really dangerous conditions across the greater Sydney and greater Hunter regions”. The heat was expected to ease by Wednesday night and into Thursday morning in NSW when temperatures were forecast to top 22C in Sydney.

“We may possibly see a few very isolated showers about the coast, but really not expecting too much rainfall with this system at all. It’s more likely just going to be a shift to much milder conditions through the later part of the week,” she said.

Bradbury said the extreme heat was expected to shift north with temperatures expected to hit 35C in Brisbane, 32C on the Gold Coast and 34C in Darwin on Thursday. “Over the next couple of days that heat is going to shift northwards and start to exacerbate the fire weather conditions across parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory,” the meteorologist said.

Fires were also burning in Queensland – including a major blaze in Beerwah on the Sunshine Coast – and Tasmania on Wednesday. Crews were battling to bring a bushfire on Tasmania’s east coast under control after it forced campers and residents to evacuate.

The wildfire near Coles Bay Road at Friendly Beaches was at watch-and-act level on Wednesday with a warning urging people in the area to seek shelter. People were forced to leave their homes and campsites on Tuesday afternoon when the bushfire sparked an emergency warning in windy conditions.

Some were forced to spend a night in their cars on Tuesday after the only road to the tourist town and national park was cut off. The blaze is about 20km north of the tourist town of Coles Bay which is the entrance to Freycinet national park.