New South Wales has been facing serious bushfires. The state is now in a declared state of emergency. At one point last week, more than 100 fires were burning in the area with one-third burning out of control. We are now down to 56 fires and 12 out of control, but it’s been a very different experience. I know what to expect and how to react to serious thunderstorms or tornadoes, but bushfires are a new breed. Last Thursday I kept looking out the window because the sky had the same kind of odd light that comes before a severe thunderstorm. I would peer out the window, check my weather app on my phone, see that it said sunny and warm, and peer out the window again in confusion. Dan eventually started texting me from the United States after seeing photos on Facebook of the smoke and postings about the fires. His texts pushed me to actually go outside to see what was going on.
When I popped outside at 4:00 in the afternoon, the sky was covered in brown smoke (hence the storm-like quality).
Sydney’s skies have largely remained smoky for the last week — more like smog, but with a definite campfire smell in the air. We’ve been battling fires since then, with poor conditions predicted for the next several days. For those who have visited, there are serious concerns in the Blue Mountains where they fear fires will link up into one large fire. These fires are coming early in the season, which leads to additional worries.
On the public health side, the bushfires are a prime example of the connection between environment and health. The smoke is causing very poor air quality. NSW Government warns that the general population may begin to experience health effects and should limit or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities. Sensitive groups are at higher risk and should avoid strenuous outdoor activities. Children, older adults, and those with lung conditions should be especially careful.
My heart goes out to the families affected and to the fire fighters working so diligently to product our NSW communities, as well as to those who are experiencing negative health effects as a result of the bushfires.