Australia bracing for 'worst ever' fire danger
By Amy Coopes, AFPSYDNEY--Australians were bracing Monday for what officials warned could be the worst fire danger day ever seen, as police searched for some 100 people still missing in ravaged Tasmania.
January 8, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
Prime Minister Julia Gillard urged Australians to be vigilant in coming days, with scorching temperatures predicted in several states and hundreds of blazes already raging.
The danger was most acute in New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, with the mercury expected to hit 43 degrees Celsius (109 F) in Sydney on Tuesday.
NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell sounded a grim warning about the forecast record heat and high winds, with a large amount of grass and vegetation ripe for burning due to bumper spring rains.
“Tomorrow is not going to be just another ordinary day,” said O'Farrell. “Tomorrow will be perhaps the worst fire danger day this state has ever faced.”
Thousands of firefighters and about 70 aircraft were on standby, with some 90 blazes already burning — 20 out of control — and catastrophic conditions forecast for regions south of Sydney.
Introduced after the 2009 Black Saturday firestorm in Victoria which claimed 173 lives, a catastrophic rating means fires will be uncontrollable, unpredictable and very fast-moving, with evacuation the only safe option.
Extreme conditions were also expected in Victoria state on Tuesday, with fires already burning there.
Some 13 million of Australia's 23 million people live in Victoria and New South Wales.