(Bloomberg) -- Sydney was shrouded by smoke for a second time this week on Thursday as bushfires continued to rage along Australia’s eastern seaboard.
Early morning commuters in the city center were faced with an acrid haze that stung the eyes and blanketed landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House and harbor bridge. Authorities warned of poor air quality that could be harmful to people with respiratory conditions.
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service said the smoke was coming from around 50 fires burning mainly in the north of the state. Total fire bans have been declared for 12 areas, with hot, dry and windy weather forecast.
More than 300 homes have been destroyed across the state and four people have died in an unusually early start to bushfire season. The fires have intensified the debate about the impact of global warming in Australia, already the world’s driest-inhabited continent with an economy underpinned by resources exports including coal.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced repeated questions about whether climate change is contributing to a longer dry season that’s fueling the ferocious blazes even before summer has begun.
In an interview with ABC radio on Thursday, Morrison was asked why he turned down a meeting with former fire chiefs who’d warned that overlapping fire seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres could make it difficult to source water bombing aircraft.
Morrison said his government was “getting on with the job.” He again dismissed any suggestion that the actions of Australia, which is responsible for 1.3% of global emissions, were impacting the current bushfire emergency.
“Climate change is a global phenomenon, and we’re doing our bit as part of the response,” he said. “To suggest that with just that 1.3% of global emissions that Australia doing something differently, more or less, would have changed the fire outcome this season. I don’t think that stands up to any credible scientific evidence at all.”
In a sign that the drought gripping parts of Australia may intensify, New South Wales said tighter water-use restrictions will come into force next month in the greater Sydney region as dam levels continue to drop. People will barred from watering their gardens or washing their cars with a hose or risk a A$220 ($150) fine.
Authorities are on alert for wildfires in much of the country, with the Bureau of Meteorology warning of hot, dry and windy weather in several states. A “Code Red” fire warning, the highest rating, was in force for parts of Victoria. In South Australia, the Country Fire Service warned people to stay indoors as smoke blanketed Adelaide.
(Updates through with fire warnings in other states, Morrison quotes)
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