Australia orders evacuation of cities devastated by fires before the heat wave

SYDNEY: ordered residents and tourists to get out of the path of heavy forest fires on Thursday while the country was preparing for a weekend that is expected to fan the deadly hell.

Catastrophic flames swept the southeast of the country, killing at least eight people and leaving tourists stranded.

New south Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a seven-day state of emergency that allows forced evacuations starting Friday, for the third time in Australia's most populous region this fire season.

We don't make these decisions lightly, but we also want to make sure we take every precaution to be prepared for what could be a horrible day on Saturday, he said.

Se produjo cuando el Servicio de Bomberos Rurales de New south Wales declaró dos zonas de licencia turística que se extienden casi 300 kilómetros (186 millas) desde la ciudad de Nowra a lo largo de la pintoresca costa hasta el vecino estado de Victoria, donde también se insta a las personas a huir.

Residents and visitors in two inland areas, which include popular resorts in the snowy mountains, were also told to leave, with people who have less than 24 hours to evacuate before a heat wave brings strong winds and temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit)

That climate will create the conditions that officials say will be so bad, if not worse than, on Tuesday, the deadliest day in a month-long forest fire crisis.

It is known that at least 18 people died in one of Australia's most devastating forest fire seasons to date, and there is a growing fear that the number will increase dramatically, with officials in Victoria saying that 17 people disappeared in the state.

Many tourists and residents spent two isolated nights without electricity or telecommunications, before authorities declared on Thursday that some roads are safe to use.

The New South Wales transport minister, Andrew Constance, called it the largest evacuation of people outside the region, with car queues that stretch for miles along the roads to Sydney and Canberra when thousands fled.

A driver told AFP that it had taken three hours to travel only 50 kilometers (30 miles).

New South Wales rural fire service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said firefighters could not extinguish or even control the burning fires.

The message is that we have so much fire in that area that we don't have the capacity to contain these fires, he told ABC.

We just need to make sure that people are not in front of them.

John Steele, 73, who lives on the outskirts of Merimbula, on the south coast, told AFP that some people were panicking amid evacuation warnings.

Steele said he and his wife were still for the moment, but added: We have our bags packed.

The number of confirmed houses destroyed in recent days has exceeded 400, and that number is expected to increase as firefighters reach communities still isolated by the flames.

Two Navy ships arrived in Mallacoota, where people huddled on the beach for hours on New Year's Eve while a fire struck the remote city, to begin evacuating up to 4,000 people in an operation that officials say they could take weeks

The commander of Victoria's joint wildfire task force, Doug Laidlaw, said the first evacuees would be transferred to the boats on Friday morning, with priority for children, the sick and the elderly.

If we need to restart and (come back) again, if the weather permits, that is exactly what will happen, he said.

Military aircraft have also been working with emergency teams to leave relief supplies in isolated areas and continue assessing damage from extensive fires.

This season's fires have destroyed more than 1,300 homes and burned more than 5.5 million hectares (13.5 million acres) across the country, an area much larger than Denmark or the Netherlands.

Suburbs of cities like Sydney and Melbourne, home to several million people, have also been hit by bushfires.

The flames have enveloped the capital of Australia, Canberra, in a haze of acrid smoke that has traveled to New Zealand, turning the air into brown glacial peaks.

The unprecedented crisis has caused street protests that ask the government to act immediately, which scientists say is creating a longer and more intense season of forest fires.

Conservative prime minister Scott Morrison It has been under increasing pressure for its actions, which included vacations in Hawaii as the disaster developed and reiterating its support for the lucrative, but very polluting, Australian coal mining industry.

At his first official press conference since the last fires were lit, Morrison said Thursday that everything possible was being done to help affected communities.

The best way to respond is the way Australians have always responded to these events and to put our trust in those who are fighting these fires, he said, while defending Australia's climate change policies as sensible.