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    Australia fires: Thousands flee to beach to escape

    December 31, 2019

    Thousands of people have fled to a beach in Victoria, Australia, to escape bushfires racing towards the coast.Locals in Mallacoota described a "terrifying experience" of camping on wharves and boarding boats under blood-red skies.Military aircraft and vessels are to be sent to help rescue efforts.Officials confirmed another two people had been killed by fires in New South Wales (NSW), bringing the fire-linked death toll to 12.
    Authorities say four people are missing in Victoria and another in NSW.The beach town where fires turned day to night The bodies of the latest victims - believed to be a father and son - were found in the NSW town of Corbargo, which was hit by a massive blaze on Tuesday. "Very tragic set of circumstances," said NSW police deputy commissioner Gary Worboys. "[They were] obviously trying to do their best with the fire as it came through in the early hours of the morning."
    In Mallacoota, the local fire service said a change in wind direction had taken the worst of the fires away from the town."I understand there was a public cheer down at the jetty when that was announced," said chief officer Steve Warrington. More than a dozen "emergency-level" blazes span a 500km (310 miles) stretch across two Australian states - from Batemans Bay in New South Wales to Bairnsdale in Victoria. Several holiday spots along the coast have been cut off and the main road in the region - the Princes Highway - has been closed.
    Victoria's state premier, Daniel Andrews, said navy ships might be called upon to provide food, water and power to the cut-off townships.'We were ready to jump into the water'In Mallacoota, residents fled to the beach or took up shelter in fortified homes when they heard the warning siren go off at 08:00 local time on Tuesday.One woman shared this picture of her young son wearing a mask and life jacket as the family fled on to a boat at Mallacoota "It should have been daylight but it was black like midnight and we could hear the fire roaring," said David Jeffrey, a local business owner. "We were all terrified for our lives." "There's a rock wall that they've built to keep back the sea, and that was where we were going to jump into the water if the radiant heat had hit," he added.The fire swept through the town destroying numerous buildings, but was kept back from the shore by the change in wind.Firefighters had gathered at the shore as a last line of defence.
    Victoria's state emergency commissioner Andrew Crisp told reporters there were "4,000 people on the beach". Steve Warrington from the fire service said: "It is pitch black, it is quite scary... the community right now is under threat but we will hold our line and they will be saved and protected."Why extreme wildfires are so dangerous How do you fight extreme wildfires? He said there had been "significant property losses" across the entire East Gippsland region in the past days. Authorities had urged people esidents in the NSW holiday towns of Bermagui and Batemans Bay also fled on Tuesday morning to the waterfront or makeshift evacuation sites near the shore.
    Residents of Batemans Bay in NSW also headed to the water for safety Locals told the BBC they had "bunkered in" as the front approached, raining ash on the beaches."It was bloody scary. The sky went red, and ash was flying everywhere," said Zoe Simmons in Batemans Bay.
    Hundreds of massive blazes have destroyed millions of hectares in the eastern states of Australia since September.A "freakish weather event" killed a volunteer firefighter on Sunday, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS). He is the third volunteer firefighter to have died.Samuel McPaul, 28, a newlywed, was expecting his first child. Powerful winds near the NSW-Victoria border - generated by the fires - lifted his 10-tonne truck off the ground and flipped it over, the service said.Two other firefighters were also injured and suffered burns. The sacrifices of Australia's firefighters Is climate change to blame for Australia's fires? Temperatures exceeded 40C (104F) in every state and territory at the start of the week, with strong winds and lightning strikes bolstering the flames. Meteorologists say a climate system in the Indian Ocean, known as the dipole, is the main driver behind the extreme heat in Australia.But much of Australia is also suffering from a record drought and scientists say climate change ha worsened the conditions, making it easier for fires to grow. 'Ground blanketed in ash'
    For many Australians, the final days of 2019 have been a tense and worrying time. The smoke hanging in the sky day after day is a constant reminder of communities on fire. Some are staying inside to avoid the thick, acrid smoke, while others are cancelling holidays or taking long detours to avoid roadblocks. Here in Merimbula, on the NSW coast, the sun has been blotted out, casting a deep orange haze in the sky. People on the street are describing it as apocalyptic. The smoke is now so thick it's almost impossible to drive. The ground is blanketed in ash and supermarkets are packed with people stocking up with supplies.Holidaymakers should be swimming and hiking today, but they're checking into evacuation centres or planning escape routes.
    Mallacoota: Where Australia's bushfires turned day to night

    Around 1,000 people live there, but the population swells at Christmas, as Australians head to the coast to enjoy their holidays,But on Tuesday morning - as bushfires swept the region - thousands of people fled to the beach for a different reason: safety.People in the town woke up to thick smoke and pale, orange skies. But as the fires drew closer, the sky turned red.At 8am a warning siren sounded, telling people to head to the water. By 9.30am, the sky was "pitch black"."We were bracing for the worst because, it was black," David Jeffrey told the BBC. "Like it should have been daylight and it was black like midnight. And we could hear the fire roaring."
    s thousands of people fled to the beach, firefighters moved there with them."We've got three strike teams sitting in with the community, literally standing side-by-side with our community at the beachfront," said fire spokesman Steve Warrington. Around the same time, some people were fleeing the land on boats.People in the area had been urged to evacuate. But by Monday, authorities urged people to stay put because it was too late and dangerous to leave.By 10.30am, this was the scene at Mallacoota wharf, as people sheltered by the water's edge.Many wore gas masks to protect themselves from the smoke.

    Fleeing into the ocean was the "last resort option", Victoria's emergency management agency said on Tuesday. With the smoke blocking out the sun, a summer's day looked like night time at the beachfront.Some emergency workers, meanwhile, were preparing to step into the heat.By the middle of the day, the sky remained reddish-orange and thick with smoke.Victoria's state premier Daniel Andrews said navy ships may be called upon to provide food, water and power to the area. The main road in the region has been closed off."Some of these isolated communities can be accessed by sea," he said.Although no serious injuries have been reported in Mallacoota, houses were seen going up in flames.
    Sydney New Year's Eve fireworks to go ahead despite protests
    30 December 2019
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    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    The New Year's Eve fireworks display in Sydney attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year
    Sydney's iconic fireworks display on New Year's Eve will go-ahead despite calls for it to be cancelled due to the bushfire crisis.

    The New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service granted organisers an exemption from a total fire ban covering the region.

    NSW has been ravaged by bushfires intensified by record-breaking temperatures and months of drought.

    A number of fireworks displays across NSW have been cancelled.

    Organisers of the Sydney display were urged to call off the demonstration and instead donate the money to farmers and the fire service.

    A petition calling for the Sydney spectacle to be scrapped - saying it sent the wrong message at a time swathes of the country was suffering from bushfires - has gathered more than 270,000 signatures.

    The petition said A$5.8m (£3m; $4m) was reportedly spent on fireworks in Sydney last year.

    Fears Australia heatwave will escalate bushfires
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    NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro was among those calling for Tuesday's display to be cancelled, saying it should be a "very easy decision".

    But Sydney's lord mayor Clover Moore said doing so "would have little practical benefit".

    A decision to grant the City of Sydney council approval to hold the fireworks display was made on Monday evening.

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    The Sydney Harbour fireworks have been approved to proceed tomorrow.

    The NSW Rural Fire Service and Fire and Rescue NSW are assessing a number of other Total Fire Ban exemptions.#nswrfs #nswfires #frnsw

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    Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to gather at the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the midnight fireworks display, a globally renowned attraction that generates millions in tourism revenue.

    Which displays have been cancelled?
    A popular fireworks display in Parramatta Park was cancelled by Parramatta Council on Monday after it failed to obtain an exemption due to the extreme weather forecast.

    "Council was not granted an exemption to proceed with its fireworks display, due to the total fire ban in place and a range of associated risks including extreme temperatures, smoke, dust and poor air quality," Parramatta lord mayor Bob Dwyer said.

    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    A number of New Year's Eve fireworks displays have been cancelled across NSW
    The council said it would donate A$10,000 to the NSW RFS instead.

    Other areas where fireworks displays have been cancelled or postponed include Wollongong, Maitland, Orange, Berry, Shoalhaven, Huskisson, Armidale, Port Macquarie, Liverpool, Campbelltown, and Tweed Heads.

    Why are there calls to cancel fireworks displays?
    In recent months, bushfires have been raging across Australia, where heatwave conditions, strong winds and drought have created dangerous conditions.

    NSW - where Sydney is located - is the worst-affected state, with more than 100 fires currently burning.

    The sacrifices of Australia's unpaid firefighters
    Is climate change to blame for Australia's fires?
    Deteriorating weather conditions are expected to worsen bushfires in the state on Tuesday, with temperatures reaching the mid-30Cs in Sydney.

     

    Media captionThe shocking aftermath of the bushfires in Balmoral - the town almost razed to the ground
    These conditions, paired with smoke from the bushfires, led to calls for fireworks displays in Sydney and elsewhere in NSW to be cancelled.

    The petition, titled "Say NO to FIREWORKS NYE 2019", said the Sydney display should also be scrapped as it "may traumatise some people" who are dealing with "enough smoke in the air".

    NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian disagreed, but acknowledged the "suffering in the community at the moment".

    "Sydney is one of the first cities in the world that welcomes in the new year, and if it's safe to do so, we should continue to do it as we've done every other year," Ms Berejiklian said.

     

     

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