Australia Braces as Bushfire Warning Reaches ‘Catastrophic’

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Australia Braces as Bushfire Warning Reaches ‘Catastrophic’(Bloomberg) -- Australia is bracing for another week of devastating bushfires, with emergency services saying swaths of the eastern seaboard and even areas on the fringes of greater Sydney are facing a “catastrophic” threat.It’s the first time authorities have set the warning level for the region around Australia’s largest city at maximum since the fire-danger rating system was introduced a decade ago.In recent days, three people have been killed and more than 150 homes destroyed in the state of New South Wales as a series of fires ripped through areas rendered exceptionally dry after a two-year drought. The devastation is unprecedented, considering summer hasn’t even begun.While cooler weather eased some of the immediate pressure on Sunday, authorities expect the situation to deteriorate on Tuesday as hot and windy conditions sweep through New South Wales and Queensland, where states of emergency have been declared.“Weather conditions are looking dire,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a press conference on Sunday. “We are bracing ourselves.”The fires come amid increasing divisions about climate change policy in Australia, with the conservative government resisting scientists’ calls to take greater action to reduce carbon emissions. They follow a series of blazes in California, including around Los Angeles, that triggered days of blackouts, while areas of Portugal were damaged in July.In New South Wales, where over 60 fires are burning, the Rural Fire Service warned that it would not be able to contain all the blazes before the weather worsened. The temperature is forecast to rise to 34 degrees Celsius (93.2 degrees Fahrenheit) with strong winds on Tuesday.The Insurance Council of Australia said that any claims from the fires would be prioritized. It’s yet to put a monetary value on property and asset losses.On Saturday, some residents in the Sunshine Coast, about 90 miles north of Brisbane in Queensland, were forced to evacuate.Climate ChangeVisiting affected areas on Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison again sidestepped questions about the role of climate change, saying his focus was on getting immediate assistance to those in need.Morrison, a staunch supporter of the coal-mining industry, said earlier this month his government is considering how it can ban activists from pressuring companies not to do business with the mining industry and other sectors with a large carbon footprint.The government’s refusal to link the fires with climate change was sharply criticized by the Australian Greens party, which has accused it of being in denial.“Thoughts and sympathies are not enough,” party leader Richard Di Natale said in a statement. “We need to anticipate and prepare for these emergencies, but we also need to go to the root cause which is the burning of fossil fuels that is dangerously heating our planet. Our government has its head in the sand.”That stance was criticized by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who said on Monday that climate change science shouldn’t be debated during a time of bushfire crisis.“We’ve had fires in Australia since time began, and what people need now is sympathy, understanding, help and shelter,” McCormack said in a radio interview. “They don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies at this time,” he added, using the colloquial nickname for environmentalists.Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent and is considered one of the most vulnerable developed countries to climate change. The nation gets the bulk of its energy from burning coal, a fuel that last year was also its largest export earner.While bushfires have been an important part of Australia’s ecology, some scientists have expressed concern that the season is getting longer, while drought conditions have created potential tinderboxes in some regional communities supporting relatively large populations.The nation’s most devastating fires, the so-called Black Saturday blazes in Victoria state in February 2009, caused 180 fatalities.To contact the reporters on this story: Emily Cadman in Sydney at ecadman2@bloomberg.net;Jason Scott in Canberra at jscott14@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Edward Johnson at ejohnson28@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.


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