A thick blanket of smoke in Sydney, due to massive bushfires, triggered dozens of false fire alarms on Tuesday, Australian authorities said.
Dozens of bushfires surrounded and choked the harbour city on Tuesday, heightened by high temperatures and strong winds.
Smoke across Australia's most-populated city resulted in air pollution that is 11 times worse than the typical ‘hazardous’ level, the New South Wales environment department said Tuesday afternoon.
Its air quality index showed worse conditions in Sydney's east and north-west. Visibility was also extremely low in most of Sydney due to smoke haze.
Several Sydney ferries have been cancelled due to the smoke and trains have been warned about false fire alarms at stations.
Several offices in the central business district, including the courts, were evacuated due to smoke entering the buildings.
Even the New South Wales Rural Fire Service headquarters in western Sydney was hit by thick smoke, which set off alarms.
The building had to be briefly evacuated on Tuesday morning.
Roger Mentha, the assistant commissioner of New South Wales Fire and Rescue, the metropolitcan fire brigade, said his teams had responded to more than 500 automatic fire alarms caused by smoke entering buildings.
‘This amount of calls peaked between 11 am and 12 midday with 154 automatic alarms. As a result there were also over 335 triple-zero emergency calls,’ he told reporters in Sydney.
The number of calls was unprecedented, which increased as the cloud of smoke ‘descended on the city,’ Mentha said, adding that resources were stretched and being prioritised.
The state education department advised schools to cancel all outdoor activities, while union officials asked that the workers be allowed to not work outside.
Former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher, who is in Australia for several shows, said on Twitter that Sydney ‘looks spooky as fuck with all this smoke proper shitting it.’ The Bureau of Meteorology said Tuesday morning light winds and an abundance of smoke led to low visibility and hazardous air quality levels in parts of Sydney and its surrounds.
Extraordinarily thick smoke is combining with high temperatures across parts of the state, as well as the capital Canberra, to create potentially hazardous health conditions, the bureau said in the afternoon on its Twitter feed.
The hot weather and gusty winds are also creating hazardous bushfire conditions, it said.
The ‘grotty’ pollution puts ‘a lot of stress on vulnerable people, particularly elderly people who have existing heat and lung conditions,’ according to state environment health department.
The consistently smoky conditions affecting Sydney over the past month are unprecedented, said Richard Broome, director of the environment health authority.
‘The smoke here in Sydney is extremely bad today, it is some of the worst air quality we've seen,’ Broome told reporters on Tuesday.
Earlier, Australian authorities issued warnings of dangerous fire conditions as temperatures and winds in the bushfire-ravaged state crept up again and Sydney was blanketed in thick smoke.
The weather is forecast to get worse, with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius amid high winds and low humidity conditions.
That combination spells ‘a lethal condition’ for bushfires, according to state authorities.
Some 2,000 firefighters are battling more than 80 bushfires that continue to burn across the state, including the so-called ‘megafire’ to the north-west of Sydney that has a 60-kilometre fire front after several blazes combined last week into one big fire.
The smoky conditions ‘are proving to be quite a challenge for firefighters on the ground, and in the air,’ RFS said on Twitter.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison asked ‘people to take great care and to follow the advice and the warnings.’ ‘Our thoughts are with all of those who are out there doing their job today,’ he told reporters in Sydney.
Meanwhile, Sydney's pollution and low visibility due to smoke have forced organizers of the Big Boat Challenge, a lead-up to the traditional Sydney to Hobart race, to cancel their event this year.
The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) made the decision to cancel just hours before the start of the race on Tuesday.
According to the authorities, bush and grass fires have now already burnt 2.7 million hectares of land in eastern Australia since the bushfire season started early in October.
Six lives have been lost and more than 900 homes have been destroyed or damaged.
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