Australian state declares emergency due to wildfires

Fires in New South Wales’ northeast have claimed three lives, destroyed more than 150 homes and razed more than 850,000 hectares of forest and farmland since Friday. (AAP via Reuters)
Updated 11 November 2019

Australian state declares emergency due to wildfires

  • Residents facing what ‘could be the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen’
  • Fire conditions are forecast to be worse on Tuesday than they were at the peak of the current fire emergency on Friday

CANBERRA, Australia: Australia’s most populous state declared a state of emergency on Monday due to unprecedented wildfire danger as calls grew for Australia to take more action to counter climate change.
New South Wales state Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said residents were facing what “could be the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen.”
Fires in the state’s northeast have claimed three lives, destroyed more than 150 homes and razed more than 850,000 hectares (3,300 square miles) of forest and farmland since Friday.
Fire conditions are forecast to be worse on Tuesday than they were at the peak of the current fire emergency on Friday.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the last time a state of emergency was declared in New South Wales was 2013 when there were extensive fires in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.
“The catastrophic weather conditions mean that things can change very quickly,” she told reporters in Sydney.
Catastrophic fire danger has been declared for Sydney and the Hunter Valley region to the north on Tuesday with severe and extreme danger across vast tracts of the rest of the state.
The week-long declaration of a state of emergency gives the Rural Fire Service sweeping powers.
The annual Australian fire season, which peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer, has started early after an unusually warm and dry winter. The crisis has reignited debate on whether Australia has taken enough action on climate change.
Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquid natural gas. It is also the world’s driest continent after Antarctic, which scientist say leaves Australians particularly vulnerable to weather extremes associated with a changing climate.
Carol Sparks, a local mayor who lost her home in a fire near the New South Wales town of Glen Innes, said climate change had contributed to the emergency.
Some residents in the path of dangerous fires blame the intensity of flames on environmentally focused lawmakers who have prevented regular controlled burning of forests to reduce the fuel load in the tinder-dry landscape for fear of smoke and harm to wildlife.
The leader of the minor Australian Greens party, Richard Di Natale, and the party’s climate spokesman, Adam Bandt, blamed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government for the crisis.
“Scott Morrison has not got the climate crisis under control,” Bandt said.
Morrison said Saturday that he had not considered whether the unprecedented fires scorching New South Wales and neighboring Queensland state were linked to climate change.
“My only thoughts today are with those who have lost their lives and their families. The firefighters who are fighting the fires, the response effort that has to be delivered and how the Commonwealth has to respond in supporting those efforts,” Morrison told reporters.


'It's good to see you:' Obama stumps in Pennsylvania for Biden campaign

Updated 16 min 27 sec ago

'It's good to see you:' Obama stumps in Pennsylvania for Biden campaign

  • Obama’s appearance on the campaign trail this week fills a gap left by Biden
  • More than 41 million ballots have been cast both via mail and in person

PHILADELPHIA: Former President Barack Obama made his first appearance on the campaign trail on Wednesday for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who is locked in a tight race with President Donald Trump in crucial states with just 13 days to go in the campaign.
Obama, one of the Democratic Party’s biggest stars and a frequent target of Trump’s attacks, joined a roundtable discussion with Philadelphia Black male politicians and community and religious leaders before a 6 p.m. (2200 GMT) outdoor drive-in rally to urge supporters to vote early for Biden and other Democratic candidates.
“It’s good to see you,” Obama said, as he entered to applause from the 15 guests.
Obama’s appearance on the campaign trail this week fills a gap left by Biden, who has stayed at home in Delaware since Monday for meetings and preparation ahead of this week’s debate with Trump in Nashville, Tennessee. Biden was Obama’s vice president for eight years.
Americans are voting early at a record pace this year, with more than 41 million ballots cast both via mail and in person ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3, on concerns about the coronavirus and to make sure their votes are counted.
Trump will head to North Carolina, another battleground state where opinion polls show a tight race, for a rally on Wednesday evening.
The last days of campaigning are taking place amid a surge in new cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations in battleground states, including North Carolina and Pennsylvania but also Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan.
Pennsylvania has averaged 1,500 new cases a day over the past week, a level it has not seen since April, according to a Reuters analysis. North Carolina is averaging 2,000 new cases a day over the past week, its highest level ever.
Polling shows a majority of voters are disappointed in the way Trump has handled the pandemic, which he has repeatedly said would disappear on its own.
On a call organized by the Biden campaign and Texas Democrats on Wednesday, several Texas Republicans urged fellow conservatives to vote for Biden, citing the coronavirus crisis as well as Biden’s character.
“This is not a decision I took lightly. I love the GOP, and I love most GOP officials. But I love my country more,” said Jacob Monty, a Republican immigration lawyer who resigned from Trump’s national Hispanic advisory council in 2016.

Pennsylvania in the spotlight
Biden and Trump are scheduled to meet in their second and final debate on Thursday night, giving the Republican an opportunity to change the trajectory of a race that Biden is leading in national polls.
Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, has warned staff and supporters she sees a far closer race in the 17 states the campaign considers battlegrounds than is suggested by the national polls showing he has a wide lead.
Biden believes he must win his birth state of Pennsylvania, which Democrats narrowly lost to Trump in 2016, and has visited it more than any other state during the campaign.
Trump has gained ground in Pennsylvania, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday, which showed the challenger leading by 49% to 45%, slightly narrower than a week earlier.
“If we win Pennsylvania, we win the whole thing,” Trump said on Tuesday at a rally in Erie, in the state’s northwestern corner.
The record early vote so far represents about 30% of the total ballots cast in 2016, according to the University of Florida’s US Elections Project.
Opinion polls and voting returns indicate that many of those early voters typically do not participate in elections but are coming off the sidelines this year to back Biden — or vote out Trump.
Trump, who has resumed a crowded schedule of rallies since recovering from his recent bout with COVID-19, will appear on Wednesday night at an airport rally in Gastonia, North Carolina.
Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, is also in North Carolina to mobilize voters in Asheville and Charlotte.