October 23, 2013 – AUSTRALIA – New South Wales is bracing for a potentially devastating day of bushfires, with the state’s fire commissioner urging people not to travel to the Blue Mountains due to conditions that are set to be “as bad as it gets.” The fire danger warning for the greater Sydney area, the Blue Mountains and the Hunter valley has been set to “extreme” – the second highest level. Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service, said the forecast for Wednesday was worse than previously thought, making it the most dangerous day yet in the bushfire emergency that began last Thursday. “The temperature will be in the mid to high 30s, humidity down to 10% and wind strengths of 80 to 100km/h,” he said. “The forecast and scenario for tomorrow is about as bad as it gets.” All schools and childcare centers in the Blue Mountains will be closed, with Fitzsimmons urging residents to seriously consider fleeing their homes. “If you are going to leave, leave early,” he said. “Leaving early is always the safest option. Know your fire safety plan and be decisive. Procrastination won’t be helpful,” he said. “We will do everything we can, but it would be wrong of me to provide a guarantee that we will deliver on providing a truck to every home, a message to every person. It is simply something we cannot guarantee, but we will do our absolute dandiest to make sure we can.
“Anyone who does not have an important reason to be in the Blue Mountains – don’t be there. Stay away from the Blue Mountains and Kurrajong Heights areas. To do so, otherwise, is simply putting yourself in harm’s way and indeed putting others in harm’s way.” An additional 1400 firefighters will be deployed across NSW in areas considered to be particularly at risk as conditions deteriorate. The perimeter of the various fire areas stretches for 1600km. About 60 fires are burning in NSW, 17 of them uncontained. Since the start of the bushfires, more than 200 homes have been destroyed, with one man losing his life. Wildlife carers have warned that thousands of koalas, possums, reptiles and other animals have been killed or seriously injured in the fires. Meanwhile, an 11-year-old boy accused of lighting two fires, one of which destroyed 5,000 hectares of land near Newcastle, has been granted bail. Insurance claims worth more than $100m already have been lodged, according to the Insurance Council of Australia. Further financial assistance is on its way to residents of fire ravaged areas, with the Salvation Army raising $1.2m in aid. –Guardian