Hazardous air quality warning as smoke from bushfires spreads across NSW and Queensland
Residents in Sydney and other parts of the east coast advised to stay indoors where possible to avoid air pollution
Much of Sydney and the Hunter regions of New South Wales have been advised to “stay inside as much as possible” on Tuesday, as winds pushing smoke from the devastating mid-north coast bushfires down the state’s east coast lead to “hazardous” air quality conditions.
Air quality in south-east Queensland has also plunged this week, with people urged to limit their time outdoors.
With NSW in the grip of a “catastrophic” fire danger warning, much of Sydney and the Hunter woke to hazardous air quality conditions on Tuesday, while in Brisbane a thick cloud of smoke also enveloped the city.
Data published by the NSW environment department showed the Illawarra region south of Sydney, also subject to the catastrophic fire warning, was also experiencing “poor” air quality.
The environment department warned people to stay inside as much as possible and avoid outdoor exertion.
“Everyone, especially people with heart or lung disease, should avoid outdoor exertion and stay inside as much as possible,” the department advised.
“Everyone should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.”
The Bureau of Meteorology warned that hot, dry and gusty winds would generate “very dangerous fire conditions across large parts” of NSW on Tuesday.
Gabrielle Woodhouse, a forecaster with the bureau, said the “huge amount of ongoing fire” in the state’s north was pushing smoke down the coast.
She said that with the wind expected to pick up later in the afternoon, air quality was expected to worsen.
“With the wind picking up and the hot and dry conditions, those fires will likely take off again this afternoon so there could be a lot more smoke,” she said.
The weather bureau is forecasting a powerful southerly change to hit Sydney at about 7pm. While it will bring relief through cooler temperatures, it also poses a risk because fires burning near the coast would change direction.
“We’ve issued a severe weather warning for damaging winds around the Snowy Mountains and southern tablelands, that wind has just turned the corner around Eden [in the state’s south] and will move quite quickly along the coast this evening,” Woodhouse said.
“We could have gale-force winds with gusts above 90km per hour.”
On Tuesday the Rural Fire Service commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, said winds would begin strengthening from mid-morning.
“Now is the time to exercise those decisions to leave, leave early and go to safer locations, safer towns or safer places in your community such as shopping centres,” he said.
While there were no new fires of concern in the catastrophic fire danger areas, he said the fires burning in the northern parts of the state were increasing in activity.
“And we’re getting reports of some fire spread particularly in the fires further up in the northern areas of NSW,” he said. “There’s been a number of tactical backburning operations.”
The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said employers must consider the health of outdoor workers, with smoke from the fires reducing air quality to “very poor” in major centres, including Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.
Across NSW more than 575 schools were closed on Tuesday after the state premier, Gladys Berejiklian, declared a week-long state of emergency in the wake of devastating fires on the NSW mid-north coast in which three people died and at least 150 homes were destroyed.
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