Firefighters deliberately joined two blazes as part of a controlled burn in the Blue Mountains region, north of Sydney, on Tuesday. The move was part of a desperate attempt to gain the upper hand over dozens of fires before extreme weather conditions hit the area on Wednesday.
Authorities are predicting very hot temperatures, humidity as low as 10%, and winds of up to 100 kilometers per hour (60 mph) that could see flames rip through bushland and threaten more homes across New South Wales.
“This will be as bad as it gets,” says the state’s Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, according to the Australian. He warned that there was a “very real potential” for more homes and lives to be lost.
Crews are facing a 1,500-km fire edge in the Blue Mountains, as well as blazes in the Hawkesbury and Southern Highlands regions. Firefighters have been brought in from other states in one of the largest mobilizations of emergency services in the state’s history. All schools in the Blue Mountains will be closed on Wednesday and authorities are urging residents to evacuate before lunchtime.
Fires have scorched an area of 116,167 hectares (about 287,000 acres) since Thursday, and have left one man dead as well as hundreds of homes destroyed.