Giant fire near Sydney may burn for weeks as people struggle to breathe

The mega fire north of Sydney was created on Friday when several fires merged and was now burning across 335,000 hectares. (AP)
Updated 07 December 2019

Giant fire near Sydney may burn for weeks as people struggle to breathe

  • Thousands of weary firefighters, who have been battling bushfires for a month, were on Saturday fighting nearly 100 blazes in New South Wales state
  • A three-year drought has left much of Australia tinder dry

MELBOURNE: A giant bushfire on the edge of Sydney, which has blanketed the city in smoke causing a spike in respiratory illnesses and the cancelation of outdoor sports, will take weeks to control but will not be extinguished without heavy rains, firefighters said.
Thousands of weary firefighters, who have been battling bushfires for a month, were on Saturday fighting nearly 100 blazes in New South Wales state.
The mega fire north of Sydney, Australia’s largest city, was created on Friday when several fires merged and was now burning across 335,000 hectares.
“We need flooding rain to put these fires out. That’s really what is going to stop it,” said the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. “These will take many weeks to put out.”
Bushfires are common in Australia during the hot summer, which begins in December, but this year the fires started much earlier, blamed on soaring temperatures, dry winds and arson.
A three-year drought has left much of Australia tinder dry.
The fires around Sydney have been pumping such vast amounts of smoke into the air that they appear as significant rain on the radars, the Bureau of Meteorology said on Twitter.
New South Wales Health said late on Friday that some 1,140 people had sought medical assistance for breathing issues or asthma in the past week — a quarter more than in a typical week. NSW Ambulance fielded about a third more calls.
Six people have been killed, nearly 700 houses burnt down and millions of hectares of land razed.
Strong winds fanned flames toward several suburbs in southwest Sydney on Saturday.
“It’s been going on all day, a fire came from the back and we put it out. But then another one came from the side so the fires covered the house in foam,” said Luke Wright who helped save his brother’s home.
“The fence has been damaged but that’s about it, very lucky,” Wright told local media.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the worst might still be ahead, with temperatures forecast to rise into the 40 degrees Celsius in coming days and no meaningful rainfall expected until late January.
“It’s a tough couple of months ahead yet and we’ve already seen the horrific consequences of fire so far this season,” Fitzsimmons told Australia’s 9News on Saturday.
Neighboring Queensland state was battling some 45 bushfires and temperatures on Saturday as high as 40 Celsius.


Dozens killed as Armenia-Azerbaijan fighting enters second day

Updated 25 min 40 sec ago

Dozens killed as Armenia-Azerbaijan fighting enters second day

  • Armenia and Azerbaijan long at odds over Nagorno-Karabakh
  • Clashes endanger oil and gas supplies from the region

YEREVAN/BAKU: Azerbaijani and Armenian forces battled for a second day on Monday after dozens were killed in an outbreak of heavy fighting that has raised fears of an all-out war between the longtime enemies.

Defense officials in both countries confirmed that intense clashes had continued overnight after erupting on Sunday along the frontlines of Nagorny Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian region that has broken away from Azerbaijan.

The separatists said on Monday that 15 more of their fighters had been killed, bringing the total reported death toll from both sides to 39.

With each side blaming the other for the latest fighting, world leaders have urged calm as fears rise of a full-scale conflict that could draw in regional powers Russia and Turkey.

Ex-Soviet Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a territorial dispute over Nagorny Karabakh for decades, with deadly fighting flaring up earlier this year and in 2016.

The region declared its independence after a war in the early 1990s that claimed 30,000 lives but is not recognized by any country — including Armenia — and is still considered part of Azerbaijan by the international community.

The Karabakh defense ministry said on Monday 32 of its fighters had been killed in the latest clashes. Seven civilian fatalities were reported earlier, including an Azerbaijani family of five and a woman and child on the Armenian side.

An Armenian Defence Ministry image shows the destruction of Azeri military vehicles during clashes between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. - (AFP / Armenian Defence Ministry)

Azerbaijan has yet to announce military casualties but Armenian defense ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan claimed that “dozens of corpses of Azerbaijani soldiers” lay on territory won back overnight.

She said heavy fighting continued on Monday morning along the frontline and claimed Armenian forces had won back positions taken Sunday by Azerbaijan.

But Baku claimed further advances.

Azerbaijani forces “are striking enemy positions using rocket artillery and aviation... and have taken several strategic positions around the village of Talysh,” the defense ministry said.

“The enemy is retreating,” it added.

Armenian military officials said Azerbaijani forces were continuing to attack rebel positions using heavy artillery, while Azerbaijan’s defense ministry accused separatist forces of shelling civilian targets in the town of Terter.

Azerbaijan's forces destroy Armenian an anti-aircraft system at the contact line of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out Sunday around the separatist region. (Armenian's Defense Ministry via AP)

Baku claimed to have killed 550 separatist troops, a report denied by Armenia.

The escalation has stirred an outpouring of patriotic fervor in both countries.

“We have been waiting for this day for so long. The fighting must not stop until we force Armenia to return our lands,” Vidadi Alekperov, a 39-year-old waiter in Baku, said.

“I’ll happily go to the battlefield.”

In Yerevan, 67-year-old Vardan Harutyunyan said Armenia had been anticipating the attack.

“The (Karabakh) question can only be resolved militarily. We are not afraid of a war,” he said.

Fighting between Muslim Azerbaijan and majority-Christian Armenia threatened to embroil regional players Russia, which is in a military alliance with Yerevan, and Turkey, which backs Baku.

Armenia accused Turkey of meddling in the conflict and sending mercenaries to the battlefield.

France, Germany, Italy, the United States, the European Union and Russia have urged a cease-fire.

Armenia and Karabakh declared martial law and military mobilization Sunday, while Azerbaijan imposed military rule and a curfew in large cities.

Talks to resolve the conflict — one of the worst to emerge from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union — have been largely stalled since a 1994 cease-fire agreement.

Analysts said on Sunday international brokers needed to step up their efforts to prevent an even worse escalation.

France, Russia and the United States have mediated peace efforts as the “Minsk Group” but the last big push for a peace deal collapsed in 2010.