Authorities in New South Wales (NSW) announced on the afternoon (local time) on Thursday, January 2, that a State of Emergency (SoE) will be in place statewide from Friday, January 3, through Thursday, January 9, due to the ongoing bushfire crisis. The SoE allows emergency personnel to direct state resources where needed, and to enforce evacuation orders, close roads, or shut down utilities. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) implemented a “tourist leave zone” along the South Coast on Wednesday, January 1, due to the ongoing dangerous conditions from bushfires (map here). Tourists between Batesman Bay and the Victorian border have been ordered to leave the zone before Saturday, January 4.
Significant traffic disruptions have been reported in the region on Thursday, January 2, particularly along the Princes Highway, as tens of thousands of people are attempting to evacuate. Authorities have closed multiple sections of the highway as of Thursday afternoon (local time), including between Batemans Bay and Moruya and between Narrabarba and Cann River (Victoria) due to fire risk. Up-to-date information on road closures can be found on the NSW live traffic website here. Authorities also issued an evacuation notice for Kosciuszko National Park on Thursday, including resorts and all places located within the park.
Food, water, and fuel shortages have also been reported in parts of the South Coast as of Thursday. According to media reports, people have queued at supermarkets and petrol stations for up to five hours. Around 50,000 residents are without power and some towns do not have access to clean drinking water. Additional military forces, including ships and helicopters, have deployed into NSW to assist in evacuations and delivering supplies.
Weather conditions are expected to deteriorate by January 4, with temperatures forecast above 40°C (104°F). Extreme fire danger conditions are anticipated to return on Saturday and further spread of the fires are likely. A heightened security presence, road closures, telecommunication disruptions, and power outages are to be expected in the vicinity of any wildfire. Up-to-date information on the fires can be found on the following website.
Over 3 million hectares (7,413,161 acres) of land have been burned, and at least 1298 houses destroyed since the wildfires broke out in NSW on October 9. At least 15 people have also died in the region as of January 1. Authorities have indicated that the fires were due to high temperatures and droughts.
Wildfires are an annual event in Australia between December and February; however, authorities have been on high alert since September 2015 over unseasonably warm temperatures, prompting scientists to speculate that climate change could be extending and increasing the intensity of the fire season.
Individuals in the affected areas are advised to monitor local weather reports, keep abreast of warnings, anticipate transportation and power disruptions, and adhere to any instructions issued by local authorities, notably evacuation orders.
As high temperatures are expected in the near-term, individuals are also advised avoid strenuous activities or spending time outdoors, particularly during midday, wear loose-fitting clothing, drink plenty of water and avoid dehydrating liquids, such as alcoholic, sugary, or caffeinated drinks, and seek immediate medical attention if exhibiting symptoms of heat stroke, such as nausea, confusion, headache, rapid and strong pulse, and dry skin.
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