As bush fires burn out of control in New South Wales and Queensland, Australia, the weather forecast authorities have raised the first ever warning of “catastrophic” bush fire conditions for the Sydney surroundings on Tuesday.
Close to 200 homes have already been destroyed by wildfires raging across the region, with more than 120 fires burning across the two states.
In New South Wales the fire authorities are warning of catastrophic danger conditions for the Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter and Illawarra Shoalhaven areas of the state on Tuesday, with strong winds set to fan flames and spread fires towards suburban areas. A state of fire emergency has been declared across much of Queensland as well.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology has said before that, “climate change including increasing temperatures” are contributing to more frequent and severe fire outbreaks across Australia.
More than three people have died and thousands have been evacuated from the ongoing fire situation, with warning areas expanding by the day.
Almost 1 million hectares of land have now been burnt in New South Wales, with almost 200 homes destroyed by the blazes.
In Queensland the fire extent is much less and only around 10 homes destroyed, but the threat persists.
The catastrophe fire warnings are in place through Tuesday 12th at least, with temperatures expected to peak at around 37C and strong winds expected to drive the bush fires towards more residential areas.
New South Wales is the immediate concern, but weather and rural fire service officials are concerned that conditions could deteriorate further in Queensland as well later in the week.
New South Wales remains in drought conditions, despite recent rainfall, meaning tinder dry bush and forests are more readily set alight and in hot, windy conditions the fire weather danger level is at its most critical.
“We just cannot overstate the profound impact that the drought is having on fire behaviour,” Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons of the NSW Rural Fire Services told reporters last week.
The Insurance Council of Australia has declared a catastrophe for the New South Wales bush fires, saying that insurers were initiating their disaster response by mobilising teams of assessors and claims specialists.
“Insurers will be poised to move into these communities once emergency services declare it safe to do so,” Insurance Council Head of Risk and Operations Karl Sullivan said. “I urge property owners to do the same — do not return to your home until you are told it is safe. These fires are still raging in many areas and have already caused the loss of life. The safety of people is paramount.”
“The Catastrophe declaration means claims from these bushfires will be prioritised by all insurers, and they will be focusing on reducing the immense emotional and financial stress experienced by residents and businesses,” he added.
Update: The Insurance Council has now reported 450 claims as received, as of early Wednesday, including more than 80 suspected total losses. It estimates the cost at AU $50 million so far, but this figure is expected to rise, with more severe fire weather now forecast for the weekend.