SYDNEY — Australian authorities urged nearly a quarter of a million people to evacuate their homes and prepared military backup as soaring temperatures and erratic winds were expected to fan deadly wildfires across the east coast.
Temperatures were expected to shoot well above 104 degrees Fahrenheit in several parts of the country Friday, accompanied by high winds, threatening to inflame fires that have already left thousands of people homeless.
"If you can get out, you should get out, you shouldn't be in the remote and forested parts of our State," Andrew Crisp, emergency management commissioner for the state of Victoria, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Emergency alert text messages had been sent to 240,000 people in Victoria state alone, telling them to leave, Crisp said. People in high-risk regions in New South Wales and South Australia states were also urged to think about leaving, but authorities had not provided numbers.
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Twenty-seven people have been killed and thousands subjected to repeat evacuations as monster fires have scorched through more than 25.5 million acres, an area the size of South Korea.
John White, Mayor of East Gippsland, an area that was ravaged by fires on New Year's Eve, said residents were on the move. "People aren't taking any chances," he said
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had given instructions to the military so "that they are to stand ready to move and support immediately" as firefighters battle 150 blazes across the country.
Australia's wildfires have dwarfed other catastrophic blazes around the world. Combining 2019 fires in California, Brazil and Indonesia still amounts to less than half the burned area in Australia.
Australia's government has maintained there is no direct link between climate change and the devastating fires, a position that has prompted activists to plan worldwide protests for Friday.
"We don't want job destroying, economy destroying, economy wrecking targets and goals which won't change the fact that there are bushfires or anything like that in Australia," Morrison told 2GB Radio, referring to calls for the government to commit to higher carbon emissions cuts.
Climate protests were planned for Friday in several cities, including Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, targeting the Australian government's handling of the crisis and its position on climate change.
Morrison said Friday he was considering holding a wide-ranging national inquiry into the fires after the immediate crisis had passed. He has pledged $1.4 billion to a newly created National Bushfire Recovery Agency.
About 100 firefighters from the United States and Canada are helping, and another 140 are expected in coming weeks.
The fires have emitted 400 megatons of carbon dioxide and produced harmful pollutants, the European Union's Copernicus monitoring program said.