MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian firefighters raced on Sunday to contain widespread bushfires that have left three people dead, and braced for worse conditions in coming days as they warned the blazes will stretch their ability to protect people.
More than 70 fires were burning across New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, and extreme or severe conditions are predicted for many areas on Tuesday, including the city of Sydney, the Rural Fire Service said.
“With so many fires already burning, homes and lives will be at risk,” the fire service said on Twitter. “If you are threatened by fire, you may not get help.”
Three people have died in New South Wales since Friday, when a record number of emergency-level fires were declared in the state, and at least 150 homes have been destroyed.
Five people were listed by authorities as missing on Saturday afternoon, but local media said Sunday they had now been accounted for.
At an evacuation centre in the town of Taree, Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised the work of firefighters, volunteers and members of the community but spoke of challenging days ahead.
“There is a long way to go and Tuesday is looking more difficult,” Morrison said in a televised press conference.
“And that is not only trickier in New South Wales, we know of similar types of conditions that we are seeing in Western Australia on Tuesday as well.”
This is already one of Australia’s worst bushfire seasons and it is occurring even before the start of the Southern Hemisphere summer, with parts of the country already crippled by severe drought.
By Sunday afternoon, about half of the more than 70 fires burning in New South Wales were still not under control, with one burning at an emergency level.
Further north in Queensland, more than 50 fires were burning on Sunday, with emergency warnings in place for two fires.
Thousands of residents in Queensland have been evacuated and authorities warned severe fire danger was expected on Wednesday, with little reprieve this year.
“There is really no rainfall, no significant rainfall, until at least the end of the year and possibly into the new year,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services acting commissioner Mike Wassing told a news conference on Sunday.