Sydney New Year’s fireworks to go ahead despite Australian wildfire threat

Firefighters in Australia worked throughout Sunday to try to contain bushfires across New South Wales before temperatures were due to soar.

A total of 95 fires were burning on Sunday afternoon with 48 not contained and more hot weather on the way

The iconic New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney will go ahead despite the wildfire crisis to show the world Australia’s resiliency, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.

The City of Sydney Council gave the green light although fire authorities warned that the fireworks could be cancelled if catastrophic conditions are declared.

About 50,000 square kilometres of land have burned nationwide over the past few months, with nine people killed and more than 950 homes destroyed.

New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, has received the brunt of the wildfire catastrophe, which has killed nine people nationwide and razed more than 1,000 homes in the past few months.

Around 2,300 firefighters were in the field, preparing for worsening conditions on Monday and Tuesday, the Rural Fire Service posted on Twitter.

The president of Berry Rotary club, Terry Delahunty, said that they had cancelled New Year’s Eve fireworks in the town 140 kilometres south of Sydney due to the weather forecast in the coming days.

A volunteer from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service works to extinguish spot fires following back burning operations in Mount Hay, in Australia’s Blue Mountains, on Saturday. (Jill Gralow/Reuters)

New South Wales Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said they will continue to monitor the situation closely and adapt accordingly “to ensure a safe and effective New Year’s Eve function.”

Fire danger in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory was upgraded to “severe” on Saturday as high temperatures built up over the region. Sydney’s western suburbs reached 41 degrees Celsius, while the inner city is expected to hit 31 C on Sunday before reaching 35 C on Tuesday.

Tourists urged out of parts of Victoria

Meanwhile, thousands of residents and holiday makers have been told to evacuate a swathe of Victoria as soaring temperatures and strong winds fan massive bushfires in the Australian state.

With the mercury set to top 40 C in Melbourne, authorities urged an estimated 30,000 tourists to leave East Gippsland, an area half the size of Belgium about 350 kilometres east of the city.

The fire danger is forecast to be extreme in seven of the state’s nine districts and threatened to close the Princes Highway, a major road artery in the region.

The warm front is heading rapidly into New South Wales, with temperatures expected to spike on New Year’s Eve.

A mural in Sydney by artist Scott Marsh depicts Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on holiday in Hawaii. Morrison returned home early from holidaying in Hawaii ahead of Christmas amid criticism his government was doing too little to address climate change and a country-wide drought. (Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Fire warnings also stretched from Western Australia through South Australia to Tasmania, in what has already been one of the toughest bushfire seasons on record.

Bowing to political pressure, the federal government said on Sunday it would compensate volunteer firefighters for loss of income given the intensity of this year’s bushfire season.

Morrison said payments of up to $6,000 Australian ($5,480 Cdn) would be available for eligible crews who had spent more than 10 days in the field this season.

Morrison returned home early from holidaying in Hawaii ahead of Christmas amid criticism his government was doing too little to address climate change and a country-wide drought.

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