Australia's east coast declares state of emergency amid 'catastrophic' fire threat

SYDNEY (REUTERS) – Authorities in Australia’s Queensland and New South Wales states on Monday (Nov 11) declared a state of emergency as the country’s eastern region prepared for “catastrophic” fire conditions.

Fires in northern New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland over the weekend killed three people and destroyed more than 150 homes.

While Australia’s most populous city Sydney avoided the worst of the weekend conditions, temperatures are set to soar to more than 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit), with strong, dry winds.

Authorities raised the forecast for greater Sydney region to catastrophic fire danger for Tuesday, the first time the city has been rated at that level since new fire danger ratings were introduced in 2009.

“Tomorrow is about protecting life, protecting property and ensuring everybody is safe as possible,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

Authorities warned locals in areas deemed at the greatest risk to evacuate.

“Relocate while things are calm without the pressure or anxiety of fires bearing down the back door,” said NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons said an additional 400 firefighters on 50 trucks will arrive from the neighbouring state of Victoria to assist local authorities.

Bushfires are a common and deadly threat in Australia’s hot, dry summers, a danger stoked by a sustained period dry weather across the country’s east coast.

In 2009, Australia’s worst bushfires on record destroyed thousands of homes in Victoria, killing 173 people and injuring 414 on a day the media dubbed “Black Saturday”.

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