Sydney was shrouded in a dangerous haze on Tuesday as high winds blew smoke from bushfires blazing along Australia’s eastern coast into the country’s biggest city sending pollution levels soaring.
Official data showed air pollution had reached “hazardous” levels across Sydney, with the highest readings of PM 2.5 particulates in the city’s northwest reaching 186 parts per million on the air quality index – comparable to New Delhi in India. Residents were warned to avoid outdoor exercise.
Six people have been killed, hundreds of homes destroyed and about one million hectares (2.5 million acres) of farmland and bush devastated across New South Wales and Queensland in the fires that have swept eastern Australia in the past few weeks.
The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said the smoke would linger for most of Tuesday as strong winds exacerbated the threat of more fires across Australia’s east coast.
More than 110 fires are currently burning across the east, with dozens of blazes still not contained.
#Sydney is also known as the 'big smoke' and is living up to the nickname today. #Bushfire smoke will slowly ease during the day, increasing tonight. A Poor air quality alert is current. Latest air quality: https://t.co/WnjvEYhOiq Latest weather forecast: https://t.co/swGZ6BSLY0 pic.twitter.com/6Ba4IgZRIH
— Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales (@BOM_NSW) November 18, 2019
In South Australia state, a ban on lighting fires is in place ahead of predicted “catastrophic” fire danger on Wednesday, when temperatures are expected to soar to about 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
Bushfire-prone Australia has experienced a horrific start to its fire season, which scientists say is beginning earlier and becoming more extreme as climate change pushes temperatures higher and saps moisture from the environment.
Growing calls to curb fossil fuels and drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions have been ignored by the country’s conservative government, which is eager to protect its lucrative mining industry.