This morning Scott Morrison addressed media and dismissed calls for greater federal support of the bushfire response and of volunteer firefighters.
It came after the opposition and Malcolm Turnbull called for a restructured nationally coordinated response, with the latter saying the threat was now a “national security issue”, as well as a growing concern from the community about volunteers being in the field for weeks or months with no end in sight.
The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (Afac) said this afternoon: “Australia has never been better prepared to face natural disasters.”
Afac, which counts fire and emergency management professions as members, said cross-state firefighting resources were funnelled and distributed across the country where they had been requested, by its National Resource Sharing Centre.
“While many volunteers are not available to travel far from their homes or interstate due to local responsibilities, employment or managing drought-stricken stock that require daily feeding, others are prepared to deploy,” Afac said.
It said there was integrated engagement with the commonwealth and national protocols for managing incident responses and the available fleet of 140 aircraft and international personnel.
“None of this comes with guarantees. However, a great deal is in place and has been practiced, providing Australia with a truly national capability drawn from state and territory agencies from across the commonwealth.”
A quick update from Victoria, where there are also several fires burning out of control in the East Gippsland region. From AAP:
Several fires burning across Victoria’s East Gippsland region have been downgraded to advice level, but remain out of control.
Firefighters are still tackling bushfires in the towns of Ensay and Timbarra, about 340km north-east of Melbourne.
Fire crews are assessing the spread of the fire and developing strategies to tie it into existing containment lines.
Aircraft are also monitoring the areas, as well as the nearby towns of Buchan, Buchan South, Sunny Point, who have also had their fire danger downgraded to advice level.
A watch-and-act warning was in place early Tuesday morning after a blaze began during Monday’s extreme heat in Timbarra.
Residents were also advised to stay indoors as a precaution.
Another 10 bushfires are burning across the state, covering about 47,000ha, according to the Country Fire Authority.
“The fires mainly cover remote forest regions, where extreme dryness and rough terrain is making it difficult for firefighters to reach,” a spokeswoman told AAP.
Northern and north-east Victoria remains at very high bushfire risk despite the cool change overnight.
The University of NSW has also closed some its campuses, but not all.
It has clarified some reporting out there to say that only its Biological Sciences north and south campuses have shut down “to avoid further disruption”.
There are many organisations involved in the bushfire response effort.
Marine Rescue teams have been on standby to provide backup for the RFS and SES on the Hawkesbury for the past few days. The organisation’s volunteers know the river, and where properties are, and they can increase the radio communication coverage and coordinate resupplies.
On Saturday, Marine Rescue’s Peter Moore told me they sent three vessels out to where the Three Mile fire was burning along Mangrove Creek. Between them, the SES and others, about 20 boats were stationed about 1km apart in case residents needed to get out quickly.
“The residents along the road had no way of getting out easily – the winds are variable – so the just wanted every contingency covered,” he said. “So if we have to move people, we had the facility without too much fuss.”
That part of Sydney has about 2,000 people without road access to their properties.
“It’s the third time we’ve been deployed,” Moore said. “We went out on the previous two hot days. You had this feeling of impending doom. The smoke was that thick you couldn’t see the side of the river. We used radar.
“Luckily we weren’t needed.”
We looked earlier at the overall air quality index but the numbers for the PM2.5 particles (the ones small enough to get deep into the lungs and into the bloodstream) are pretty shocking across the state.
The Department of Health data measures rolling 24-hour averages, and in the past few hours a number of regions have bounced into the red “hazardous” zone, which is above 200.
Armidale in the northern tablelands has hit 542, and to the south-west in Tamworth it has reached 428.
Goulburn in the southern tablelands is also extraordinarily high at 462.
Most of the greater Sydney region is also in the red, with measurements above 300 across the north-west except in Rouse Hill, where it has hit 430.
Sydney’s east ranges from 157 in Earlwood to 353 in Macquarie Park.
Sydney University’s campuses at Camden and Molonglo are still closed to staff, students and visitors, after being evacuated last Thursday.
A limited number of staff attending to the critical care of animals were allowed access to the sites this morning, the uni said, but those people had pre-approval from their line managers and security.
People are being told not to return until at least tomorrow.
A quick update of the current fire situation as that southerly change starts moving through the state.
- The Three Mile fore, in the central coast, has burned through more than 31,000ha.
Watch and Act level:
- The Gospers Mountain fire, in the Hawkesbury, has burned through more than 319,000ha.
- The Green Wattle Creek fire, south-west of Warragamba Dam Wall in the Blue Mountains national park, has burned through more than 109,000ha.
- The Kerry Ridge fire, near Muswellbrook, has burned through more than 53,400ha.
- The Little L Complex fire at Singleton has burned through more than 65,900ha.
There are 86 other fires burning.
In the context of those health warnings we’ve just heard, here’s the Climate and Health Alliance – a coalition of healthcare stakeholders lobbying for climate change action as a health issued.
From a NSW Ambulance Service spokesman:
“In conditions like these, New South Wales ambulance is responding to between 70 and 100 instances of respiratory illness per day, from asthma to emphysema.
“Today they’ve treated a 93-year-old woman in northern Sydney and a 23-year-old woman in western Sydney, both of whom had pre-existing asthma conditions.
“Both of those patients did not have their asthma medication with them. To the vulnerable people in the community – that is children, the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions that are either respiratory or cardiac-related – we encourage them to say indoors and to have their medications with them. These conditions should not be taken lightly.”