Australia fires: Evacuation call stepped up as crisis worsens

Authorities in Australia have urged tens of thousands of people to move to safety amid concerns that bushfires will burn out of control this weekend.

“If you don’t need to be in the area, you need to leave,” warned New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Temperatures are expected to soar above 40C in parts of south-east Australia on Saturday, with strong winds increasing the fire danger.

Officials said it is expected to be a “very dangerous day”.

NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers warned that fires could move “frighteningly” quickly on Saturday because of the extreme weather conditions.

“We are unfortunately very likely to lose homes but we will be very happy and call it a success if there are no lives lost,” he said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

Since September, fires in Australia have killed at least 20 people, while dozens are missing.

What is the forecast for Saturday?

Meteorologists have forecast extreme heat and strong winds in fire-affected areas in south-east Australia on Saturday.

Victoria has declared a state of disaster in areas home to some 100,000 people, and urged residents to leave before Saturday.

“If they value their safety they must leave,” Michael Grainger of the state’s police emergency responders said. “I’d suggest personal belongings are of very, very little value in these circumstances.”

He described the circumstances as “dire”.

On Friday, the Australian navy evacuated some 1,000 tourists and residents who were trapped in the fire-ravaged town of Mallacoota on the Victoria coast.

NSW has also declared a week-long state of emergency, and urged tens of thousands of residents and holidaymakers to evacuate coastal areas where a “tourist leave zone” has been declared.

“There is still a window for people to leave,” Berejiklian said on Friday. “If you don’t need to be in the area, you need to leave.”

The volunteer NSW Rural Fire Service said many fires in the region could “pose a serious threat to life”.

“If you are in the path of these fires leave tonight before conditions worsen tomorrow morning,” it warned on Friday.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance described the forecast conditions as a “blast furnace”.

In the state of South Australia, further west, fire crews have been battling a bushfire on Kangaroo Island.

Officials have described the blaze as “virtually impossible” and say it threatens to engulf most of Australia’s third-largest island, according to ABC News.

What’s the background?

The fires in Australia began in September. In addition to the fatalities, they have so far destroyed more than 1300 homes, as well as millions of acres of bushland.

Meteorologists say a climate system in the Indian Ocean, known as the dipole, is the main driver behind the extreme heat in Australia.

However, many parts of Australia have been in drought conditions, some for years, which has made it easier for the fires to spread and grow.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been criticised for his response. In a news conference on Friday, he said he understood that people had “suffered a great lot” and were “feeling very raw”.