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article imageBig fires get worse as Sydney vanishes in smoke haze

By Paul Wallis     Nov 18, 2019 in World
Sydney - Sydney is no stranger to big fires, but the biggest drought ever has raised the stakes. We’re currently covered in a haze that looks like Delhi or Beijing. Conditions are expected to persist for a week.
It’s been a horrendous start to bushfire season. The effects of the fires were visible yesterday, with smoke like a solid cloud covering most of Western Sydney. Now the smoke is everywhere. The smoke is now covering the entire city. It’s also heating up as summer starts, and that’s not helping. The Big Drought has made the entire area ultra-dry, and since most Australian trees are pyrogenic, (using fire to reproduce), it means Sydney is covered in potential fuel.
Media coverage is updating every half hour or so. The overall situation is getting worse, and horrific in terms of levels of possible risks. Australian bushfires can be all too lethal, and they can hit so fast people can’t escape. The air quality is “hazardous”, which may be an understatement for some people.
Health warnings
Health warnings have been issued for all Sydney residents. These health warnings are no joke. Particularly at risk are people with respiratory conditions and of course asthma and hay fever sufferers. Even if you don’t have a respiratory condition, try to restrict exposure to the very smoky air, which is full of particulates, ash, etc.
Emergency Services advisory services
The Rural Fire Service Fires Near Memap is useful for both residents and people planning to travel. This map is current within half an hour. Also note that many areas have text fire alerts, so keep your phone handy.
IMPORTANT – Travellers take extreme care
Travellers please note: If you aren’t sure about fire conditions in the areas in which you’re travelling, check first. Emergency services are stretched, and it’s far too easy to run into a fire zone with no help available.
A record bushfire year? Let’s hope not.
This year’s bushfire season is one of the worst in the last nearly 30 years. The drought is the main culprit, but the extreme dry conditions have created fire hazards on a scale rarely seen before. Although our fire services did carry out backburning about 2 months ago, the conditions are perfect for big fires.
Sydney is quite literally surrounded by native bush. Sydneysiders love the bush, but it’s not like we don’t know the risks. During the 90s I was working in a place where we had a clear view of fires to the south. There was a gigantic mushroom cloud over the Royal National Park, looking exactly like an atomic bomb. The entire huge area was devastated. It was miraculous that nobody was killed, and that property damage was minimal.
The problem is that this year could actually be worse. This drought is huge, unprecedented, and the fires so far have been big, fast and ferocious.
Some cases of arson, mainly by kids, have been reported. This, annoyingly, isn’t uncommon, and is the cause of fires every year.
The bushfire safety bottom line
This is basic “bushfire etiquette”:
Be ready to move fast if you’re anywhere near a fire, like within 20km or if you’re downwind of a fire. You will have no more than about an hour at most to get out safely. Try to be ready to move ASAP.
Observe fire bans and don’t light anything at all outdoors. (If you’re a smoker, put the butt in your back pocket to make sure it doesn’t start a fire. Serves you right if you didn’t put it out properly, doesn’t it?)
Don’t waste emergency services time. Just follow instructions.
Tell emergency services if there are mobility-impaired or handicapped people in the area who’ll need help to evacuate. Do what you can to assist and tell them about any possible risks.
If you want to stay and fight the fire, be realistic. There’s only so much you can do. Get the family out and be ready to run if necessary.
If you see a suspected arson attack, report it immediately. Call emergency services on 000, and take whatever safety measures you need. Don’t take the law into your own hands, tempting as it may be.
Staying safe in fire-affected regions:
Keep close track of any fires in adjoining areas, which may spread.
Keep an eye out for anyone lost or in trouble, and help if you can, or get help for them ASAP.
More about Sydney bushfires 2019, Australian bushfire safety, Rural Fire Service alerts, arson reporting, travel safety in bushfire areas
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