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Australia issues ‘catastrophe’ danger alert as bushfires kill three people, destroy homes in Sydney

Australia has issued a “catastrophic” fire warning across Sydney, the country’s largest city, as firefighters battle a rapidly worsening bushfire crisis.

Wildfires have killed three people and destroyed more than 150 homes since Friday.

There were still more than 80 fires burning across New South Wales yesterday (Sunday), despite the efforts of more than 1,300 firefighters supported by 70 planes.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) said Greater Sydney, the Hunter, Blue Mountains and Central Coast should brace for “catastrophic” conditions in the coming days.

It is the first time Greater Sydney has received this level of warning since the ratings system was introduced a decade ago. The RFS said that “large areas” of New South Wales are “expected to see severe or extreme fire danger”.

“We are entering an extremely dangerous period of fire danger across NSW, because of the large amount of fires already burning, and increased danger ratings. Know the fire danger and what you will do, especially if you’re in an area of catastrophic fire danger,” it said in a statement.

Roads are closed as a bushfire still smoulder in Old Bar, 350km north of Sydney on November 10, 2019. – Firefighters in eastern Australia were on November 10, 2019 assessing damage from ferocious bushfires that have devastated communities and rushing to prepare for “bad, if not worse” conditions expected to flare in the coming days. PETER PARKS / AFP

The RFS advised people in areas at risk to head to larger towns, shopping centres or facilities away from bushland areas. Schools in high-risk areas will also be closed and a statewide total fire ban is in place.

Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, visited devastated communities yesterday.

“People are under a lot of pressure,” Mr Morrison told reporters at an evacuation centre in Taree. “The level of optimism, despite the circumstances, is quite inspiring.” Mr Morrison, whose government has downplayed the threat of climate change, was also heckled about the issue at a fire command centre in nearby Wauchope.

“Climate change is real, can’t you see?” The Australian newspaper reported a man as yelling before he was escorted out of the building.

In Queensland, where a state of emergency has been declared, more than 1,200 firefighters were battling more than 50 blazes yesterday.

“Queensland does not usually have a fire season like we’ve experienced this year and last year,” Annastacia Palaszczuk, the premier, told reporters.

With thousands of people forced to flee from their homes, Australia’s government was offering emergency assistance payments of up to $1,000 (pounds 540) to those affected and extended support for anyone unable to work as a result.

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