SYDNEY — Sydney experienced its first total wildfire ban in almost three years on Tuesday and several schools along the south coast of New South Wales state were closed due to an increased risk of fires. wildfires, caused by unusually hot and dry conditions in southeastern Australia.
Authorities have predicted the most destructive wildfire season as the southern hemisphere summer approaches in Australia’s populated southeast since the catastrophic 2019-20 Black Summer fires that killed 33 people, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed 19 million hectares (47 million acres).
A total fire ban has been declared for the Greater Sydney region and southern coastal communities. This is the first such declaration for Sydney, Australia’s most populous city after Melbourne, since late November 2020.
Sydney on Tuesday equaled its September maximum temperature record of 34.6 degrees Celsius (94.3 degrees Fahrenheit). The Australian Bureau of Meteorology described it as an unusually warm start to spring for much of southeastern Australia.
“We’re in a period of very, very warm weather like we haven’t seen in many, many years,” said Miriam Bradbury, the bureau’s senior meteorologist.
Authorities said Tuesday that 61 wildfires were ravaging Australia’s most populous state, 13 of which were out of control.
Authorities have declared a “catastrophic” fire risk along the NSW south coast, the highest danger level in a five-tier rating system.
“The problem is that when we are faced with fires classified as ‘catastrophic’, we don’t have a lot of time to bring those fires under control and contain them and once they take hold, we won’t be able to put them out,” said Rural Fire Services Commissioner Rob Rogers.
“We need to warn the community that the risk has increased and make sure people focus on preserving life on a day like today,” he added.
State education officials said 20 schools in South Coast communities closed Tuesday because of the fire risk they faced.
The Bureau of Meteorology declared an El Nino weather phenomenon on Tuesday, associated with warmer and drier conditions across Australia’s east coast, after three successive La Nina events brought milder and wetter conditions. The World Meteorological Organization declared an El Niño phenomenon in July.
“In all likelihood, we can expect this summer to be warmer than average and certainly warmer than the last three years,” said office director Karl Braganza.