Bushfire threat increases in NSW and ACT, Australia, Jan. 11. Plan for transport, utility disruptions; heed evacuation orders.

Severity: Warning Alert

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This alert began 10 Jan 2020 18:41 GMT and is scheduled to expire 13 Jan 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: Bushfires
  • Locations: New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory 
  • Time Frame: Through at least Jan. 12
  • Impact: Evacuations; road closures; transport, utility, and business disruptions

Summary
The New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service maintains a Tourist Leave Zone in southern areas along the state's coast Jan. 11 amid ongoing bushfires. Forecast models indicate that high temperatures and strong winds will persist in the region over the coming days, leading to a continued bushfire threat. As of early Jan. 11, 162 fires are burning across the state, including at the watch and act alert level. These fires include the following areas:

  • Erskine Creek Fire: North of Lake Burragorang.
  • Morton Fire: Southern Highlands area near Bundanoon.
  • Dunns Road: Snowy Mountains area; between Adaminaby and Woomargama
  • Green Valley, Talmalmo: Jingellic area, east of Albury
  • Yellow Bog Road: Wellumba Creek.

As of Jan. 11, a very high fire danger warning is in effect for the Southern Slopes, while the rest of the state - except North Coast, Northern Riverina, and South Western - is under a high fire danger warning. Additionally, a severe weather warning for damaging winds is in effect for the Hunter, Metropolitan, and Illawarra forecast districts. Authorities will likely issue new alerts and update or rescind existing advisories as conditions change over the coming days. Officials have lifted the total fire ban that had been in place across New South Wales.

Authorities have not provided an estimated containment date for the fires; hot and dry conditions and strong winds continue to hamper firefighting efforts, and additional fire growth is likely in the coming days. Fires could lead to further evacuations, closure of secondary and primary roads, and general ground travel and business disruptions.

Transport
The bushfires have caused several transport disruptions throughout NSW. Authorities have reopened some roads to facilitate the departure of tourists and residents from southeastern NSW, but several road closures persist. As of Jan. 11, main closures include Princes Highway from Wonboyn Road to the Victoria border; Monaro Highway from Bombala to the Victoria border; Snowy Mountains Highway between Murray Jackson Drive and Kosciuszko Road and from Hume Highway to Adelong; Kings Highway between Braidwood and North Batesman Bay. The status of roads could change over the coming hours and days; authorities could close routes within the wildfire complex and evacuate additional communities due to fire activity and the needs of response operations. Traffic congestion is highly likely on northbound routes through at least Jan. 12. Traffic disruptions are also likely during re-entry periods after authorities lift evacuation orders. Low visibility from smoke and possible ashfall could contribute to traffic delays and congestion in the region.

Smoke and ashfall from bushfires are causing poor air quality in Canberra and surrounding areas of ACT as of early Jan. 11. Low visibility could trigger flight disruptions at airports in the region, including those serving Canberra (CBR) and Sydney (SYD).

Power outages are likely within and near bushfire complexes.

Health
Smoke from fires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees, plants, and possibly building materials. Such smoke can hurt eyes, irritate the respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. Smoke may also worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Advice
Heed all evacuation orders. Seek updated information on road conditions if driving in the affected area; road closures and detours will cause increased congestion and delays. Individuals not under evacuation warnings should consider remaining inside well-ventilated, air-conditioned spaces to reduce exposure to smoke. Collect essential items - including identification and any important legal and travel documents - in a "go-bag" that can be easily accessed. Charge battery-powered devices in case of prolonged power outages.

Resources
New South Wales Rural Fire Service: www.rfs.nsw.gov.au
Bureau of Meteorology: www.bom.gov.au
NSW Emergency Management: www.emergency.nsw.gov.au
ACT Emergency Services Agency: esa.act.gov.au
Live Traffic New South Wales: www.livetraffic.com

Airports
Canberra Airport: www.canberraairport.com.au
Sydney Airport: www.sydneyairport.com.au