Australia’s Capital Declares State of Emergency Over Wildfire

January 31, 2020 Updated: January 31, 2020
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Australia’s capital declared a state of emergency and total fire ban over a raging wildfire.

It’s the first fire emergency for the Australian Capital Territory area since 2003 when wildfires killed four people and destroyed almost 500 homes in a single day.

The threat is posed by a blaze on Canberra’s southern fringe known as the Orroral Valley Fire that has razed more than 53,000 acres since it was sparked by heat from a military helicopter landing light on Monday, the Emergency Services Agency said.

“The state of emergency sets a clear expectation for our community that we need you to be vigilant,” Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman told reporters on Friday. “This is the worst bushfire season in the [Australian Capital Territory] since 2003.”

The Orroral Valley Fire was at the “WATCH AND ACT” level warning, the Emergency Services Agency said Friday around 1:45 p.m. UTC. People living in Tharwa Village, Boboyan Road, Apollo Road, Top Naas Road, and Nass Road need to remain vigilant, it said.

The fire “is out of control” and traveling slowly in a southeastern direction, the agency said.

Epoch Times Photo
A pyrocumulonimbus cloud is generated by the intense Orroral Valley bushfire burning to the south of Canberra, Australia, on Jan. 31, 2020. (Brook Mitchell/Getty Images)

“You need to plan for when you will leave. You need to plan for where you will go. And you need to plan for what you will take,” Canberra Chief Minister Andrew Barr said at a press conference late Thursday.

A state of emergency gives the government extra power to manage the declared emergency, such as directing or regulating movement of people and taking control of a person’s property.

A change in wind direction caused smoke to blow across the capital region. Residents were told to call emergency services if they saw an unattended fire. They were directed to the Bushfire Survival Plan, which guides people to discuss what to do in a bushfire, be prepared to leave, know the bushfire alert levels, and keep informed through websites and applications.

“The plan is just four simple steps: DISCUSS – PREPARE – KNOW – KEEP,” Emergency Services state on its website.

“Not needing to use that plan is a far better outcome than not having a plan at all,” Barr said at the press conference.

The current fire is burning at emergency level—the highest on a three-tier scale of danger—and embers have created dangerous spot fires nearby, agency officials said.

The fire is the most dangerous of dozens of blazes burning Australia’s drought-stricken southeast.

Unprecedented fires across southern Australia have claimed at least 33 lives since September 2019, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed more than 26.2 million acres.

The fire danger is forecast to escalate across the southeast in the Australian Capital Territory and the states of New South Wales and Victoria as summer temperatures rise over the weekend.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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