Fears Australian bushfires may combine into single blaze
Fire fighters fear 'nightmarish' hot, dry weather may cause 'unparalleled' blazes to spread
PREDICTIONS of "nightmarish" weather conditions in the Australian state of New South Wales have raised fears that several out-of-control bushfires may combine into a single giant fire front.
Fire fighters describe the situation as "unparalleled". But things could get even worse if the forecast of continuing hot, dry weather and fire-fanning winds, proves to be correct.
A state of emergency was declared across NSW last night which gives authorities powers to "forcibly remove people, cut electricity and water supplies, and shore up or demolish buildings", ABC News reports. More than 200 properties have already been destroyed in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, and more residents are being ordered to evacuate their homes.
Air pollution in the Sydney area has rocketed and fire fighters are being drafted in from other Australian states. New Zealand says it is ready to send additional fire fighters if NSW asks for its help.
There are fears that the biggest bushfire, which is burning across "hundreds of kilometres" near the Blue Mountains town of Lithgow, could combine with another smaller fire to the south-east if conditions remain hot and dry as forecast.
Dr Owen Price, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong, told ABC News that a combined fire could produce so much energy it "could create its own weather conditions".
"You can get these conditions, what you call a pyrocumulus, where a fire is producing so much energy it punches up through the troposphere a huge plume of smoke, essentially creating a thunderstorm with lots and lots of energy in it," he said. "Then it starts to suck in air from all around, so there's more oxygen and it feeds back on itself so the fire behaviour goes really extreme."
Fires of that magnitude can be impossible to fight, Dr Price said.
Fire fighters are carrying out 'back burning' operations in the Blue Mountains in an effort to keep the blazes away from homes. Back burning is a "high risk" technique that involves deliberately setting light to vegetation in front of fire to deprive it of fuel, ABC News explains.
Sydney has been "blanketed" by a cloud of air full of particles released by the bushfires, Sydney newspaper the Daily Telegraph reports. People suffering from lung conditions are being urged to stay indoors. ·