Australian News

Horror conditions forecast for New Year’s Eve

Australians are in for a horror New Year’s Eve as a fresh heatwave engulfs at least three states, with temperatures expected to soar well past the 40C mark.

The NSW Rural Fire Service says about 2000 firefighters are preparing for peak bushfire conditions on Tuesday, warning travellers to monitor the fire situation before they leave home.

Massive fires continue to rage across NSW, with 85 fires burning statewide — 36 of which remain out of control.

Persistent, large bushfires at Gospers Mountain northwest of Sydney, Green Wattle Creek southwest of Sydney and the Shoalhaven area continue to burn, with authorities admitting only rain will put them out.

RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said firefighters had completed challenging work in areas such as the Blue Mountains and South Coast, backburning and establishing containment lines.

Dramatic photographs of firefighters battling a huge blaze at Currowan near Batemans Bay emerged overnight.

Total fire bans have been declared in the southern and central ranges, with the threat of fire to 11 NSW regions and the ACT classified as “very high”.

Residents of western Sydney are set to swelter for a second day in a row with the mercury to hit 41C this afternoon. That is still cooler than Melbourne, however, where temperatures are predicted to exceed 43C in Melbourne. Even Tasmania will not be spared, with a high of 40C forecast.

The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted the extreme heat will peak on the final day of the year, sparking fears of a last-minute cancellation of Sydney’s Harbour’s $6.5m pyrotechnics display.

But the City of Sydney confirmed this morning the fireworks would go ahead, despite the heightened bushfire risk.

“We appreciate the concerns people have around holding the Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks while large parts of Australia deal with bushfires and drought,” it said in a statement.

“And we’ve heard the calls from people to cancel the event and donate the budget to relief efforts.

“But we can’t cancel the New Year’s Eve celebrations. It would have little practical benefit for affected communities.

“We began preparations and planning for the NYE celebrations 15 months ago. This means most of the budget, largely used for crowd safety and cleaning measures, has already been spent.”

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NSW RFS spokesman Ben Shepherd said authorities would wait until Monday afternoon to make the final decision.

He said the fire danger warning in the city was likely to be “severe” but not “catastrophic” — the level that would require the fireworks to be cancelled.

The rising temperatures come after firefighters spent the past week striving to contain large and complex bushfires before conditions get worse.

“Tomorrow we are expecting peak temperatures to be at South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania,” BOM meteorologist Sarah Scully told Today.

“We are expecting temperatures in Tasmania to be about 40C — even hotter for Melbourne at 43C.

“Those really hot northerly winds will be dusty and we are expecting a chance of thunderstorms with little or no rainfall, so that of course ignites the chance of new fires.”


Authorities have urged people planning to head south to usher in the new year to reconsider their travel plans as the bushfire risk to the Shoalhaven area intensifies.

Firefighters have been battling a massive blaze at Batemans Bay, two hours south of Shaolhaven, for the past two days.

As the Currowan and Comberton fires continue to threaten popular holiday spots across the region, visitors were this morning warned to stay away.

“If you don’t need to be here, then we are encouraging you to reconsider your travel plan,” local emergency operations controller Ray Stynes said in a statement issued by Shoalhaven City Council.

Mr Stynes said an increased volume of visitors had already added “to the burden on emergency services and responders”, forcing authorities to close the highway a number of times.

Mr Stynes noted the highway had already been closed a number of times, which had led to long queues of traffic and delays.

“It has also resulted in people being displaced for periods of time,” he said.

“Despite the warnings, many are trying their luck to get here, this has resulted in many stories of people having to head back home after being turned around at road blocks.

“The Kings Highway is closed and Main Rd 92 is also closed. Once the Princes Highway closes there is no way around. Emergency services are then faced with long queues of traffic in a fire impacted area.

“The Kings Highway is closed and Main Rd 92 is also closed. Once the Princes Highway closes there is no way around. Emergency services are then faced with long queues of traffic, in a fire impacted area.”

Incident controller Superintendent Mark Williams said large crowds in isolated areas only added to the difficulty of managing emergency situations.

“We have held a number of community meetings to inform residents of the deteriorating weather that is expected,” he said.


RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said firefighters had completed challenging work in areas such as the Blue Mountains and South Coast, backburning and establishing containment lines.

Mr Fitzsimmons said the RFS was not expecting a return of catastrophic conditions on Tuesday but firefighters and communities would be challenged.

A rapidly growing fire near Tarcutta in the Snowy Valleys was on Saturday afternoon raised to “emergency” level as it burned erratically towards the east, but has since been downgraded back to “advice”.

The federal government, meanwhile, has announced RFS volunteers battling long-running blazes could receive up to $6000 in financial support.

The payments of up to $300 per day will be available to Rural Fire Service NSW volunteers who are self-employed or work for small and medium businesses.

They will be capped at $6000 per person and are tax-free.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the payments would be equivalent to 20 days of emergency leave for the eligible volunteers.


Meanwhile residents in Victoria’s far east have been warned to flee as an out-of-control blaze rages amid worsening fire conditions.

People in Goongerah and Martins Creek have been told to evacuate as a bushfire burning easterly towards their communities is still not under control today.

A watch-and-act warning is in place for Goongerah, Martins Creek, Nurran, Sardine Creek and Errinundra, and for Smokeytown and Springmount.

“Don’t wait, leaving now is the safest option — conditions may change and get worse very quickly,” the latest warning states.

“Emergency services may not be able to help you if you decide to stay.”

A warning has been downgraded to a watch-and-act alert for Bonang, Cabanandra, Deddick Valley, Dellicknora and Tubbut in the state’s East Gippsland region.

Conditions are expected to worsen today as temperatures are forecast to reach the mid-30s in East Gippsland with the risk of dry lightning from forecast thunderstorms.

A total fire ban is in place for the Mallee district in Victoria’s northwest, with the ban extending to the entire state tomorrow.

— with AAP

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