By Christian Edwards
SYDNEY, (PNA/Xinhua) — The Australian state of New South Wales Monday is in an official State of Emergency as authorities prepare for what the RFS (Rural Fire Service) says is an ‘unparalleled’ fire emergency amid fears that three fires outside Sydney may merge into one giant inferno.
State Premier Barry O’Farrell initiated the emergency declaration in anticipation of a deterioration in conditions with the additional powers allowing authorities to forcibly evacuate residents and even demolition private property.
The state Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke told journalists his officers will undertake forced evacuations “if the risk is necessary”.
“At the end of the day, we hope we have buildings standing. But if we don’t have buildings standing we don’t want bodies in them.”
The usually scenic Blue Mountains are ablaze, with smoke and ash inundating Sydney after almost a week of constant burning, however with conditions swiftly deteriorating, the RFS told Xinhua, Monday that hot northerly winds will fuel fires at Lithgow, Springwood and Mount Victoria, creating the possibility of an unprecedented ‘megafire’.
At a press conference on Monday, the face of these unseasonal bushfires, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the likelihood of the fire turning down the blue mountains toward Sydney’s western suburbs is also growing.
This is as bad as it gets.. some communities will be simply unsave-able,” Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.
The RFS told Xinhua that a fire near the country town of Lithgow, has already burned 40,000 hectares of bush will in all likelihood jump barriers and merge with the fire across Mount Victoria.
A clearly exhausted Fitzsimmons, who broke down during a weekend press conference when speaking of the courage of the 2000 fire-fighters currently deployed around the blue mountains, reluctantly told local communities to brace for the worst.
“We are better off focusing on what might be. While it may cause distress, I would rather be apologizing for inconvenience than dealing with devastation and despair.”
The Commissioner described the situation as beholden to ‘unparalleled conditions.’
“The potential is for the entire Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury, including places like Kurrajong, to be at risk over the coming days,” Fitzsimmons said. “The fire.. could very easily join with the fire at Mount Victoria and both of those fires will become one. ”
Firefighters from around the country have converged on the Blue Mountains and while conditions eased over the weekend, have committed resources to back-burning effectively establishing containment lines ahead of the next three days of extremely hot and powerful north-westerly winds.
The week has begun ominously with an official count of 56 bushfires are burning across the state and Sydney itself shrouded in an eerie yellow glow as the smoke billows out to sea.
Entire communities have now been told to leave their homes as the deteriorating conditions begin to take effect.
12 fires are out of control and with additional firefighters moving into position despite the relative inaccessibility of the Blue Mountains terrain the state government is reckoning with the direst of outcomes.
“We’re planning for the worst but hoping for the best,” Premier O’Farrell told reporters.
Condolences for the more than 200 families that have already lost their homes have come in from around the world, with the Queen of England sending a message, Sunday to her representative in Sydney, Marie Bashir Governor General of NSW, expressing her ‘ heartfelt sympathy ‘to all those who have been affected by the bushfires across New South Wales.
“My thoughts are with the many people who have lost their homes or livelihoods in the fires, and I have great admiration for the fire fighters, volunteers and emergency services officers who are working tirelessly to contain the situation.”