Thick smoke from bushfires is likely to blanket Sydney for at least another day as almost 50 blazes continue to burn across NSW, one of which has been upgraded to an “emergency warning”.
The Myall Creek Road bushfire in northern NSW was elevated to an emergency warning on Tuesday afternoon after it came within a couple of kilometres of Whiporie, threatening the village.
“(The fire) is moving fast through pine plantation. If you’re in the Whiporie area seek shelter … it is too late to leave,” The Rural Fire Service tweeted.
Three other NSW fires have been classed as “watch and act”.
The 144,000-hectare “watch and act” bushfire at Gospers Mountain has sent smoke over Sydney, and the Bureau of Meteorology says the haze is likely to be repeated on Wednesday.
At 9pm, there are 55 bush and grass fires burning across NSW with 25 yet to be contained. 2 fires are at Watch and Act alert level and the Gospers Mountain Fire remains at Emergency Warning. Over 1800 firefighters continue working to protect property and slow the spread of fires. pic.twitter.com/E4XfX7sOT9
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) November 19, 2019
The smoke could clear overnight but “the conditions are really there for that sort of thing to return”, the bureau’s NSW regional manager Ann Farrell told reporters.
“We really aren’t going to be out of the woods for the coming days with that air quality issue from smoke over the eastern part of the state.”
Air quality was hazardous on Tuesday afternoon in Sydney’s east and northwest, as well as on the Central Coast, the Northern Tablelands and northwest slopes.
People with asthma or other breathing issues were advised to stay indoors, avoid outdoor exercise and seek medical advice as needed.
NSW Health director Dr Richard Broom said Sydney’s air quality “would at the very least be comparable to some cities in developing countries where they have very poor air quality”.
“On days when there’s high air pollution we see increased rates of hospital presentations and increased numbers of deaths as well, so it’s undoubtedly serious,” Dr Broom told reporters, adding people with pre-existing conditions should be cautious.
#Sydney is also known as the 'big smoke' and is living up to the nickname today. #Bushfire smoke will slowly ease during the day, increasing tonight. A Poor air quality alert is current. Latest air quality: https://t.co/WnjvEYhOiq Latest weather forecast: https://t.co/swGZ6BSLY0 pic.twitter.com/6Ba4IgZRIH
— Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales (@BOM_NSW) November 18, 2019
Dust is also affecting air quality and a wind change expected on Thursday could exacerbate the problem from the state’s west through to the coast, Ms Farrell said.
That change could trigger thunderstorms into the weekend which won’t bring much rain but could see lightning strikes ignite additional fires.
Parts of NSW could experience heatwave conditions this week with the state’s west forecast to reach 40C and western Sydney expected to hit the high-30s.
“There’s a set of ingredients there that are going to make firefighting conditions challenging, but really this is part of what’s been quite a long season,” Ms Farrell said.
A state of emergency declared by Premier Gladys Berejiklian ended on Tuesday, but NSW Police deputy commissioner Gary Warboys says emergency services could reach out to her again.
“It’s been pretty clear that if we need (a state of emergency) government is in a position to, and keen to, assist us to provide protection and safety to the community,” Mr Warboys said.
The Rural Fire Service on Tuesday said 577 homes had been destroyed to date this fire season, with more than 420 lost in the past fortnight. There have been six deaths.
Additional “watch and act” alerts were in place on Tuesday afternoon for a 15,000ha blaze at Ebor, east of Armidale, and a 21,000ha fire at Bora Ridge, west of Evans Head.
Some 1.6 million hectares of NSW bushland have been lost so far this bushfire season.