New South Wales declares state of emergency

Fears that Australian bush fires could merge into "magafire"

October 21, 2013

A state of emergency has been declared in Australia’s most populous state and officials are saying that the 63 fires burning in New South Wales present the worst fire danger seen in 45 years.

The fires have eaten through an area larger than New York City. One in three Australians live in New South Wales.

More than 200 houses have been destroyed and at least one death was attributed to the fires so far.

As scores of fierce brush fires threatened communities near Sydney on Monday, Australian officials warned that the hot, dry and windy conditions could create a possible “megafire.”

The possibility the State Mine fire in the Blue Mountains could merge with the Linksview Road fire in Springwood, which destroyed 200 homes, and the Mount Victoria fire to the south, had some experts worried, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Monday.

Dr. Owen Price, a senior research fellow at the Center for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong, said the three fires could combine with so much energy that a weather system could be created.

“If they do join up and push to the south, there is a potential that many heavily inhabited suburbs along the Great Western Highway in our Blue Mountains region may be directly impacted by fire,” said Alex Chesser, a spokesman for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

A total fire ban is in place for the Greater Sydney region until further notice, officials have said, meaning no fire may be lit in the open, and all fire permits are suspended. The fires have spread a cloak of smog over Sydney in recent days.

Climate models predict the worst fire weather will be increasingly common in New South Wales, but the ferocity of the current fires was not caused by particularly bad fire weather says climate scientist Andy Pitman from the University of South Wales in Sydney. Instead, it was the result of a very warm winter- the second warmest on record in New South Wales and part of Australia’s warmest 12 months on record- which probably caused by climate change, according to Pitman.

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