(Bloomberg) -- A series of devastating bushfires are raging in Australia’s most populous state, destroying more than 100 homes and leaving at least two people dead.
More than 70 fires were burning across New South Wales on Saturday morning with more than half of them still uncontained, the state’s Rural Fire Service said in a tweet. Seven people remain unaccounted for. Some of the worst fires are just a few hours drive from Sydney.
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned the worst is not yet over. Weather conditions are expected to deteriorate on Tuesday which the fire service anticipates will mean the flames spreading further across the state and threatening more metropolitan areas.
“The situation is beyond serious,” she told a press conference on Saturday morning. “We do need to brace ourselves.”
The state is in “uncharted territory,” Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told ABC on Friday. “We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning alert level.”
The fires are being fanned by strong winds and are tearing through areas which are exceptionally dry after a two-year drought. Though bushfires are common in Australia, it’s highly unusual to see so many fires of this magnitude, particularly in the spring.
At one point on Friday, 17 fires were burning at the emergency warning level –- the most serious category. That figure’s been reduced to five on Saturday morning, though the fire service warned it could increase again. More than 1,000 firefighters and emergency crews are currently deployed.
The latest outbreak of bushfires comes amid increasing tensions in Australia about its response to climate change.
While activism is rising and businesses are increasingly shying away from financing environmentally managing projects, the government is pushing back. Prime Minister Scott Morrison -- who famously wielded a lump of coal in parliament in a show of support for the nation’s second-largest export -- said this month he was considering legislating to prevent protesters pressuring companies not to do business with mining companies.
(Updates number of deaths in first paragraph, adds forecast in third paragraph, updates number of critical fires in sixth paragraph.)
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