SYDNEY – Australian authorities urged nearly a quarter of a million people to evacuate their homes on Friday as soaring temperatures and erratic winds were expected to fan deadly bushfires across the east coast.
Twenty-seven people have been killed and thousands have been made homeless as the monster fires scorched through more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of land, an area the size of South Korea.
As temperatures begun to rise, authorities in Victoria state pleaded with people to move to safer areas.
“We sent out an emergency alert, so text messaging to 240,000 people, basically across the east of the state. If you can get out, you should get out, you shouldn’t be in the remote and forested parts of our State,” Andrew Crisp, emergency management commissioner for the state of Victoria, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Temperatures are expected to shoot well above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in several parts of Australia on Friday, threatening to inflame a bushfire season that has already destroyed nearly 2,000 homes.
More than 150 fires remain alight across the country, and authorities fear a southerly shift in winds due later in the day will fan the flames and change the direction of many fires.
The winds themselves are strong enough to be classed as “damaging” and are expected to sweep across the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.
Parts of Kangaroo Island, a wildlife-rich tourist spot off the southeastern coast, were again evacuated and a town cut off as fire closed the only road. A third of the heavily forested island has already been turned to ash.
Australia’s wildfires have dwarfed other catastrophic blazes around the world. Combining 2019 fires in California, Brazil and Indonesia still amount to less than half the burned area in Australia.
Ecologists at the University of Sydney have estimated 1 billion animals have been killed or injured in the bushfires.
Australia’s government has maintained there is no direct link between climate change and the devastating bushfires.
“We don’t want job destroying, economy destroying, economy wrecking targets and goals which won’t change the fact that there are bushfires or anything like that in Australia,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told 2GB Radio on Friday.
Following are some highlights of what is happening in the bushfire crisis:
— There are 46 fires ablaze across New South Wales, with around 18 uncontained.
— All other fires were at the “advice” level, the lowest alert rating.
— Victoria state had 43 fires, two of which are so severe that evacuation orders have been issued. Two more fires are at emergency levels.
— In South Australia state, nine fires are ablaze, one of which is at a emergency level.
— Climate protests were planned for Melbourne on Friday targeting Prime Minister Morrison, who has been slammed for his handling of the bushfires and his government’s position on climate change.
— Authorities have warned that the huge fires, spurred by high temperatures, wind and a three-year drought, will persist until there is substantial rainfall. The weather agency said there was no sign of that for months.
— Moody’s Analytics said the cost of the fires could easily surpass that of deadly 2009 Black Saturday fires that destroyed 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres)of land, which cost an estimated 4.4 billion Australian dollars.
— Morrison has pledged A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) to a newly created National Bushfire Recovery Agency.
— About 100 firefighters from the United States and Canada are helping with another 140 expected in coming weeks.
— The fires have emitted 400 megatons of carbon dioxide and produced harmful pollutants, the European Union’s Copernicus monitoring program said.
— Smoke has drifted across the Pacific, affecting cities in South America, and may have reached the Antarctic, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization said.