Residents in the path of massive wildfires west of Sydney, Australia were given a stark warning to “pack the car” and leave their homes early Wednesday as hot winds created the worst possible conditions for crews battling the flames.
New South Wales emergency services minister Michael Gallacher said communities in affected areas should move out to make way for the 3,000 firefighters.
"Firefighters are dealing with the unpredictability of mother nature. What they don’t want to be dealing with is the unpredictability of human nature,” he told reporters at a 7 a.m. Wednesday (5 p.m. ET Tuesday) news conference, according to the Australian broadcaster ABC.
"There should not be discussions around breakfast tables in the Blue Mountains or in other parts of the state affected by fire today, ‘What are we going to do today if ...’ That should have been done.
"If you don’t have a plan, quite simply let me give you one: Pack the car now, head down the mountain, come down and enjoy time in the metropolitan area and allow the firefighters the freedom to move through the community to protect your homes."
More than 200 homes have been destroyed in New South Wales since Thursday, when fires tore through scattered communities on Sydney's outskirts, razing entire streets. One man died after suffering a heart attack trying to protect his home.
Shane Fitzsimmons, Commissioner for the New South Wales Rural Fire service, told the same news conference that overnight rain had not helped crews tackle the 59 fires, 19 of which were still raging out of control.
There were ‘‘very volatile and unstable weather dynamics,” he told reporters, “to the point that we withdrew fire fighters and fire appliances off a lot of fire trails, largely as a result of safety concerns”
Earlier, Fitzsimmons said the forecast conditions for Wednesday were “about as bad as it gets," adding: “There is a very real potential for more loss of homes and loss of life."
With steep hills carpeted by eucalyptus forests and dotted with small communities, the Blue Mountains are a popular day trip from Sydney, but its rugged and often inaccessible terrain can become a fire nightmare during the long, hot Southern Hemisphere summer, Reuters reported.
Police have arrested several children suspected of starting a number of different fires. Other fires were sparked by power lines arcing in strong winds, according to the fire service.