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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Daisy Dumas

Sydney facing first total fire ban in three years as spring heatwave hits Australia’s south-east

New South Wales’ Rural Fire Service has enacted a total fire ban for the entire Sydney region for the first time in three years.
New South Wales’ Rural Fire Service has enacted a total fire ban for the entire Sydney region for the first time in three years. Photograph: Darren England/AAP

New South Wales’ Rural Fire Service has enacted a total fire ban for the entire Sydney region for the first time in three years.

The ban comes into place on Tuesday, when temperatures in the city are expected to reach 33C. The last total fire ban covering Sydney was on 29 November 2020.

The service has also declared a total fire ban on the state’s far south coast, where the Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe heatwave warning, with temperatures not falling below 18C for three consecutive days and nights.

Extreme fire conditions are forecast for the south coast on Tuesday and in Sydney and the Hunter Valley on Wednesday.

On Monday, a vast swathe of Australia entered its fourth consecutive day of well above average heat, delivering elevated fire dangers and an early start to an unusually hot and dry warm season.

Northern Victoria, inland NSW and inland South Australia were all forecast to record temperatures from 10C to 16C above average on Monday. Port Augusta in SA was predicted to reach 39C, Penrith in NSW was set to reach 37C and Sydney was forecast to hit 31C.

Dean Narramore, a meteorologist with the Bureau of Meteorology, said the sustained period of high temperature across numerous parts of Australia was “very unusual”, particularly for the time of the year.

The deep band of heat has been caused by a large, slow-moving high pressure system dragging warmth from central and northern Australia into the south-east. September heat records were broken in South Australia on Sunday, where Ceduna hit 39.8C.

With the heat moving eastwards, temperatures were expected to rise further in NSW on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The heatwave is set to break on Wednesday, when a cold front will sweep across the entire south east, bringing strong winds, showers and even some snow for parts of alpine Victoria and Tasmania, Narramore said.

Sydney is likely to drop from 34C to 21C when the cool change arrives that evening, bringing gusty winds and some showers.

“It’ll be back to average temperatures, but after a hot week that’s going to feel like a shock,” Narramore said.

On Monday morning the NSW Rural Fire Service responded to grass fires in Riverwood, south-west Sydney, and Kangy Angy, north of Gosford. A bushfire in Razorback, north of Picton, was also under control.

Queensland’s Fire and Emergency Services issued evacuation orders for residents of the rural town of Emerald and Beerwah on the Sunshine Coast on Sunday. By Monday, residents in affected areas were being told to stay informed and avoid smoke.

James Haig, the executive manager for bushfire mitigation at the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, urged bushfire preparedness after an early start to the bushfire season.

“You can see from the recent fires in Queensland, the bushfire season is well and truly on us so, please, make sure you’ve got a bushfire survival plan,” he told ABC News.

“We want people to understand what they’re going to do and be able to implement a plan made in advance.”

The Australian Red Cross echoed the call, with new data indicating just 10% of people are taking steps to actively ready for emergencies, despite 58% of Australians – more than double the figure of five years ago – likely to be affected by heatwaves during the next 12 months.

The Red Cross’s Penny Harrison said concern of emergencies was not translating into active preparation.

“We know the better prepared you are, the better your capacity to respond and recover from any emergency. Just thinking about it is not enough,” she said.

Sydney residents have been told to prepare for a high risk season of bushfires this summer, while prolific vegetation growth has added to fuel loads as bushfire season approaches.

The BoM has not yet declared an El Niño for the summer ahead, but meteorologist Dylan Bird last week said the agency was observing climate criteria closely and that the phenomenon, now given a 70% chance of emerging, was “very likely”.

After the warmest winter on record, the bureau forecasts a hotter, drier summer for much of Australia, owing to the likely El Niño and the Indian Ocean dipole development.

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