(Bloomberg) -- Isolated bushfires broke out in Sydney on Tuesday, fanned by strong winds and soaring temperatures as Australia’s largest city faced its first ever “catastrophic” fire danger.
Authorities battled a blaze in the affluent neighborhood of South Turramurra, just 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the CBD, before a plane brought it under control by dumping red fire retardant. A handful of other fires broke out in other suburbs of the city, which is dotted with national parks and bushland, shrouding the skyline with an acrid smoke haze.
More than 70 wildfires are burning across New South Wales state, devastating rural areas left tinderbox dry by a two-year drought. Three people have been killed and more than 150 homes destroyed in the state in recent days -- a disastrously early start to the nation’s bushfire season considering summer has not even begun.
A southerly wind swept through Sydney on Tuesday evening, lowering temperatures that had reached 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). As the winds progress up the coast through the night, they’re expected to make conditions even more hazardous as they shift the direction of the fire fronts.
Authorities issued multiple emergency warnings for fires threatening rural communities north of Sydney, and said in some instances it may be too late for residents to safely leave. More than 3,000 firefighters were deployed or on standby across the state and hundreds of schools were closed as a precaution.
Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent and is considered one of the most vulnerable developed countries to global warming. According to the weather bureau, climate change is influencing the frequency and severity of dangerous bushfire conditions, with the season starting earlier in spring in southern and eastern parts of Australia.
The fires come amid increasing divisions about climate change policy in Australia, with the conservative government resisting scientists’ calls to take greater action to reduce carbon emissions.
It’s the first time authorities have set the highest warning level for Sydney since the fire-danger rating system was introduced a decade ago. The level has been downgraded three notches to “Very High” on Wednesday.
The city has experienced wildfires in the past, with dozens of homes destroyed in suburbs around national parks in 1994. In 2013, bushfires in New South Wales destroyed more than 200 homes, including many in the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney.
The nation’s most devastating fires, the so-called Black Saturday blazes in Victoria state in February 2009, caused 180 fatalities.
--With assistance from Hannah Dormido.
To contact the reporter on this story: Edward Johnson in Sydney at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Edward Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org, Angus Whitley
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.