Major Australian State Declares Wildfire Emergency

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales declared a seven-day state of emergency Thursday as oppressive conditions fanned about 100 wildfires.

Two thousand firefighters were battling the blazes, half of which are uncontrolled, with the support of U.S. and Canadian backup teams and personnel from the Australian Defense Force.

A previous state of emergency ran for seven days in mid-November amid “catastrophic” fire risk and was the first implemented in New South Wales since 2013. Central Sydney reached 102 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday, while outer suburbs scorched at 108.

A wildfire burns near Tahmoor, New South Wales, Australia on Thursday, one of about 100 fires burning nationwide. (Dean Lewins/AAP Images via AP)

A statewide total fire ban announced on Tuesday will remain in place until midnight Saturday.

Around 3 million hectares of land has burned nationwide during the torrid past few months, with six people killed and more than 800 homes destroyed.

The annual Australian fire season, which peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer, started early after an unusually warm and dry winter.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said authorities were concerned about the unpredictable conditions.

“With extreme wind conditions, extreme hot temperatures, we have a good idea, a good sense, of where the most concerning areas are, but again when you’ve got those turbulent conditions, embers and spot fires can occur very unpredictably,” Berejiklian said.

Sydney’s air pollution levels on Thursday ranged from poor to hazardous. During the past month, hazardous smoke has often blanketed Australia’s most populous city and made its iconic skyline barely visible.

Hospitals have recorded a 10% increase in visits from patients with respiratory conditions during the past week.

Wildfires are also burning in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

The Bureau of Meteorology said Tuesday was the hottest day on record in Australia with an average of 40.9 Celsius (105.6 F) nationwide.

Perth, the capital of the west coast, is experiencing its hottest December, with average temperatures for the month at 36 Celsius (97 F) and 7 degrees above the mean.

Adelaide, in the southeast, is suffering a four-day heat wave culminating in a sizzling 45 Celsius (113 F) on Thursday.

The unprecedented conditions have reignited debate on whether Australia’s conservative government has taken enough action on climate change. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas.

Protesters on Thursday camped outside Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Sydney residence, demanding urgent action on climate change.

Morrison, who is on holiday, conceded last week that “climate change along with many other factors” contributed to the wildfires.

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