Record bushfire emergencies hit Australian state

Silhouettes figures watch a helicopter against a sky turned orange from a bushfire at Forster, New South Wales on 7 November

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EPA

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More than a dozen fires in New South Wales have threatened homes

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Australian authorities say an “unprecedented” number of emergency-level bushfires have threatened the state of New South Wales (NSW).

More than 90 blazes were raging across the state on Friday.

The fires – many in drought-affected areas – were being exacerbated by gusty winds and up to 35C heat.

There are reports of people trapped in their homes in several places, with crew unable to reach them due to the strength of the fires.

“We are in uncharted territory,” said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, with at least 17 blazes at the highest threat level.

“We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level.”

Authorities warned some people to seek shelter from fires rather than flee, as it was now “too late to leave”.

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Massive smoke clouds above the Wollemi National Park near Lithgow on 7 November 2019

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A huge blaze in the Wollemi National Park has burnt through 20,000 hectares

A firefighter stands in front of flames at a blaze in Port Macquarie on 2 November 2019.

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AFP

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The fires have affected both inland and coastal areas in the state’s north-east

A water bomber aircraft dropping fire retardant on a wildfire in Forster on 7 November

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EPA

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An aircraft drops fire retardant near the town of Forster

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Emergency warnings were also issued on Friday for bushfires burning in Queensland and Western Australia.

In NSW, the worst-hit state, crews have fought hundreds of fires since September. Last month, two people died while trying to protect their home.

Last week, one blaze burnt though 2,000 hectares of bush which contained a koala sanctuary. Hundreds of the animals were feared to have died.

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A dehydrated and injured koala is treated at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital on 2, November following a massive blaze which ravaged a koala sanctuary.

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AFP

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Wildlife rescuers were able to save some injured koalas from a deadly fire

A firefighter feeds a dehydrated kangaroo some water after a bushfire in New South Wales in the first week of November 2019

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DEPARTMENT OF FIRE AND EMERGENCY SERVICES/TWITTER

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This dehydrated kangaroo was freed from a wire fence in the aftermath of a blaze

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The state is in the grip of a long-running drought and authorities warn that many fires will continue to burn unless there is rain.

“We just cannot overstate the profound impact that the drought is having on fire behaviour,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.

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A night sky lit a dark red from a bushfire at the coastal village of Harrington in New South Wales on 29 October

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BRENTON ASQUITH/ NSWRFS

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A fire in the coastal village of Harrington last month

Two firefighters point hoses at the fire front of the Long Gully Road blaze on 27 October

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NSWRFS

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Some fires have burnt for over two months and destroyed properties

A fire truck and another vehicle parked in front of a massive cloud of smoke from the Long Gully Road fire in October

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NSWRFS

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Two people died in what was dubbed the Long Gully Road fire

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Officials said spot fires – caused by embers travelling in the wind – were breaking out up to 12km (7.4 miles) from fire fronts. This was three times further than average, they added.

Accessing water in dry areas to fight the fires was also proving challenging, with water-bombing aircraft often being forced to fly long distances.

In some cases bores were being drilled to keep up with demand, authorities said.

“We’ve very mindful of the scarcity of water and how precious it is but the reality is we can’t do firefighting without water,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.

Last week, Sydney was blanketed by smoke for days due to fires in Port Macquarie – a region 380km away.

The poor air quality prompted health warnings for those with asthma and other respiratory problems.

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Tourists take in a hazy view of Sydney's skyline amid intense bushfires north of the city

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Getty Images

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Strong northerly winds shrouded Sydney in smoke from the bushfires

The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge are obscured by a smoky haze on November 1, 2019.

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AFP

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The haze obscured the city’s most famous landmarks

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Authorities said they were concerned about the severity of the fires ahead of its hottest months, a year after the nation experienced its warmest summer on record.

Australia’s fire season risks growing longer and more intense due to climate change, according to scientists.

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Media captionWhy Australia bushfires are now “hotter and more intense”

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