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State of emergency in Hunter Valley as Oz prepares for worst bushfire week on record

Published:  12 November, 2019

Fire chiefs, residents and wineries in New South Wales are currently preparing for a “catastrophic” fire day today as 60 fires continue to tear through the region’s residential areas and wine country.

The “unprecedented” bush fires have been raging since last week in a break out that is widely believed to be weeks ahead of Australia’s usual bush fire season, promopting calls for more action to be taken against the mounting global climate crisis. 

Hunter Valley and Sydney, along with the Illawarra/Shoalhaven regions, which are known for their laid back beach landscapes and coastal vineyards, are currently on the highest level of alert.

Wine Australia said it was too early to assess the full impact of the fires, which have already claimed lives and destroyed hundreds of homes.

“Today is a very high fire danger day in New South Wales,” said Wine Australia’s Anita Poddar, who is based in Oz.

“Frankly we are hoping that not only do vineyards and wineries escape damage, but most importantly the people stay safe too. In rural communities, many work as volunteer firefighters putting their lives on the line to protect others so even if vineyards are not at risk, we know people are putting themselves at risk for their communities.”

A weeklong state of emergency was declared yesterday (Monday) with fire officials warning of “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen” across New South Wales and parts of Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.

Today however, the fires are due to worsen, with New South Wales – the country’s most populous state – in particular facing unprecedented impact. 

In the early hours of this morning, the fires reached Sydney. Photos posted online clearly show smoke over the city’s Opera House and other landmarks.

It is the first time the official fire danger rating of “catastrophic” has been given from the Australian fire department since it was introduced in 2009 following the Black Saturday disaster in Victoria, in which 180 people were killed.

Increasing levels drought in places like the Hunter Valley over the past few years have created a tinderbox situation. This, coupled with high temperatures and strong winds, led one former California fire chief to describe the situation as the ‘new normal’.

“These are the future fires,” said Ken Pimlott, the recently retired chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, speaking via The Sydney Morning Herald. The department, known as Cal Fire, led the fight against last year’s equally awful fires in the US state in 2018. 

“People need to recognise that this is not a short-term crisis. All the trends are going the same way.”

Top photo from Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) via Twitter showing retardant being applied to help protect lives and homes. FRNSW is one of the “world’s largest urban fire and rescue services and is the busiest in Australia”.