Over 600 schools across New South Wales (NSW) have been ordered to close as uncontrollable bushfires ravage the state.
A week-long state of emergency was declared throughout NSW Monday as “catastrophic” conditions — the highest fire danger degree in Australia — engulfed the state’s mid-north coast and crept into the densely-populated sections of greater Sydney, Wollongong, and Newcastle.
While announcing the state of emergency, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged all residents to “assume the worst.”
"With catastrophic weather conditions predicted for this week, particularly Tuesday with hot weather and strong winds, I have decided to take the [fire] commissioner’s advice and make this declaration,” she said in a media release. “For heaven’s sake, stay away from bushland.”
This shows the dangerous conditions that have confronted firefighters and residents today. This is the crew from Warringah HQ at the Hillville fire near Taree. #nswrfs#nswfirespic.twitter.com/lIhnF8P1Qf— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) November 8, 2019
This is the first time the “catastrophic” rating has been issued in such a highly-populated region.
The declaration also marks the first state of emergency since over 100 fires burned in NSW in 2013, claiming two lives and annihilating close to 300 houses and other structures.
As of Monday, the current fires have destroyed 150 homes and killed three people.
Over the past two days, federal and state politicians have been continuously asked to speak on the link between climate change and the unprecedented fires.
Both Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian have evaded the question.
Morrison, while addressing the media and firefighters on the government’s bushfire response, said he was “focused on the needs of the people in this room today … the needs of resourcing of our firefighters.” Berejiklian, likewise, said she is prioritising "keeping people alive" over exploring potential links to climate change.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told ABC Radio National that people making links to climate change were “disgusting.”
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) explicitly states that the ferocity of bushfires are compounded by climate change.
“Climate change is influencing the frequency and severity of dangerous bushfire conditions in Australia,” BoM writes on its website. “Including through influencing temperature, environmental moisture, weather patterns, and fuel conditions.”