Australia fires: NSW, Victoria, SA, Qld and WA all face extreme bushfires risk – live

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “SA hard hit as Australian fires burn into the night – as it happened” was written by Calla Wahlquist (now), Amy Corderoy and Naaman Zhou (earlier), for theguardian.com on Friday 20th December 2019 08.56 UTC

8.56am GMT

South Australia, New South Wales, and Victoria burn into the night

  • Emergency warnings remain in place for fires burning in the Adelaide Hills, on Kangaroo Island, and on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. One person has died in a car crash near Lameroo, in the bushfire zone, but it’s not clear at this stage whether they were fleeing the fire.
  • We do not yet have a clear picture of the scale of the damage in South Australia and whether any more lives have been lost. The Adelaide Hills appear to have sustained significant damage. One person has been reported missing.
  • Eight people — four firefighters, three police officers, and one other person — have been treated for burns and smoke inhalation in SA.
  • A cool change will move through SA and Victoria tonight, bringing stronger winds and swinging active fires around, risking creating wide fire fronts.
  • Three grassfires near Ballarat in western Victoria were under an emergency warning on Friday night. That warning extended to Teesdale and other communities just 30km west of Geelong, which are under threat from the Mount Mercer fire.
  • The Bureau of Meteorology warned that dangerous fire conditions would continue late into the night.
  • The RFS has set up an account for donations for the families of volunteer firefighters Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer, who died when their truck rolled near Buxton last night.
  • New South Wales is bracing for catastrophic bushfire conditions on Saturday. A catastrophic warning has been issued for Greater Sydney, Illawarra/Shoalhaven, and Southern Ranges — all areas where fires are currently burning. The Greater Hunter, ACT and Central Ranges will have extreme conditions.
  • RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said it would be a “miracle” if more houses were not lost in NSW tomorrow.
  • Fire chiefs in NSW, SA and Victoria have all emphasised that they may not be able to get a warning to people, and they cannot guarantee they will be able to get a firetruck to everyone affected by bushfires. The recommendation, across the country, is to leave early. “Early” means before the fire approaches — not after the embers have begun falling.
  • People in NSW have been told to put off travel tomorrow because the Princes Highway, Western Highway, Hume Highway and other major arterial roads could be cut.

Stay safe, stay off the roads if you’re not actively evacuating to a safer place, and look after each other. We’ll see you tomorrow.

8.41am GMT

New emergency warning for Victoria

An emergency warning has been issued for the areas of Bamganie, Shelford, and Teesdale, which are west of Geelong. They are under immediate threat from the uncontrolled grassfire that started at Mount Mercer, near Ballarat.

It is too late for residents in those towns to leave.

8.31am GMT

South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria burning into the night

  • Emergency warnings remain in place for fires burning in the Adelaide Hills, on Kangaroo Island, and on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. One person has died in a car crash near Lameroo, in the bushfire zone, but it’s not clear at this stage whether they were fleeing the fire.
  • We do not yet have a clear picture of the scale of the damage in South Australia and whether any more lives have been lost. The Adelaide Hills appear to have sustained significant damage. One person has been reported missing.
  • Eight people — four firefighters, three police officers, and one other person — have been treated for burns and smoke inhalation in SA.
  • A cool change will move through SA and Victoria tonight, bringing stronger winds and swinging active fires around, risking creating wide fire fronts.
  • Two grassfires near Ballarat in western Victoria were under an emergency warning on Friday night. The Bureau of Meteorology warned that dangerous fire conditions would continue late into the night.
  • The RFS has set up an account for donations for the families of volunteer firefighters Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer, who died when their truck rolled near Buxton last night.
  • New South Wales is bracing for catastrophic bushfire conditions on Saturday. A catastrophic warning has been issued for Greater Sydney, Illawarra/Shoalhaven, and Southern Ranges — all areas where fires are currently burning. The Greater Hunter, ACT and Central Ranges will have extreme conditions.
  • RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said it would be a “miracle” if more houses were not lost in NSW tomorrow.
  • Fire chiefs in NSW, SA and Victoria have all emphasised that they may not be able to get a warning to people, and they cannot guarantee they will be able to get a firetruck to everyone affected by bushfires. The recommendation, across the country, is to leave early. “Early” means before the fire approaches — not after the embers have begun falling.
  • People in NSW have been told to put off travel tomorrow because the Princes Highway, Western Highway, Hume Highway and other major arterial roads could be cut.

Stay safe, stay off the roads if you’re not actively evacuating to a safer place, and look after each other. We’ll see you tomorrow.

Updated at 8.40am GMT

8.13am GMT

The CFS has established an emergency relief centre for the Maitland fire at the Minalton Bowling Club.

The fire at Maitland has now been downgraded to a watch and act level.

Updated at 8.16am GMT

7.50am GMT

7.35am GMT

South Australian senator Penny Wong has expressed her condolences to the family of the person who died in a vehicle crash in the SA fires.

The ABC just reported that fire has entered the main street of Charleston, a small town in the Adelaide Hills.

The wind is swinging around to the south now, which will push the fire north. That means that what was previously the fire flank will become a very wide fire front.

Updated at 7.38am GMT

7.24am GMT

Behold: bats being watered in Melbourne, as the temperature climbed into the low 4os this afternoon.

Flying foxes are very susceptible to the heat. More than 400 were killed in a heatwave in western Sydney last year. So I’m sure they enjoyed the shower.

7.14am GMT

Donations open for firefighters families

If you want to help the families of Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer, the firefighters killed when their truck rolled at the Green Wattle Creek fire on Thursday night, the RFS has set up an official bank account.

Donations to that bank account will go to their families, both of which include very young children. The details are here.

Keaton, 32, joined the RFS in 2006 and was the deputy captain of the Horsley Park brigade. O’Dwyer, 36, joined in 2003 and was a member of the Horsley Park brigade.

Frefighters Andrew O’Dwyer, left, and Geoffrey Keaton.
Frefighters Andrew O’Dwyer, left, and Geoffrey Keaton.
Photograph: Supplied Handout/EPA

Updated at 7.23am GMT

7.07am GMT

7.05am GMT

Koala habitat still at risk

Meanwhile, the Nature Conservation Council says a policy announced today that is supposed to help koalas will “fall well short of what is required to protect the species”.

A significant proportion of koala habitat in NSW has been destroyed or is under threat from bushfires, including genetically significant populations in the Blue Mountains. It is enough to put the species at risk.

The NSW government today released a new State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019. It clarifies the definition of core koala habitat and increase increases the number of tree species that can be used to identify koala habitat from 10 to 123.

“These changes are positive but local councils are still under no obligation to develop koala plans of management,” campaigner Shirley Hall said.

“Only a handful of the 88 councils in NSW identified as needing koala plans of management have developed them to a standard acceptable to the state government since the original koala SEPP was created in 1995.

“Part of the problem is that some councils are hostile to koala conservation. Others simply lack the resources to create the plan.”

It can cost up to 0,000 to put a koala plan of management in place in an individual local government area, Hall said. That cost would be covered with m in state funding, but the funding is not forthcoming.

“If the NSW Government is serious about koala conservation, it should make the development of koala plans of management compulsory for all identified regions and ensure all councils have the resources they need to implement them,” Hall said.

“Ninety-nine per cent of identified koala habitat on private land in NSW was risk of being cleared before these changes and that remains the case.”

Updated at 7.18am GMT

6.54am GMT

To Queensland now, where AAP reports that 98 people (31 adults and 67 children) have been charged with arson by Queensland police.

Queensland has been battling devastating bushfires since August, losing 43 homes and 240,000 hectares of bushland.

Police said on Friday that 103 of the fires started since September were deliberately lit, and more than 120 fires are still being investigated to determine their ignition source.

Some 65 fires continued to burn across the state on Friday, jumping from 55 reported on Thursday.

Conditions are forecast to improve along the Queensland coast into next week but residents across the state should remain on alert about fire and heat warnings, the Bureau of Meteorology says.

“It is vital not to become complacent when hearing these continued warnings,” forecaster Rosa Hoff told media on Friday. “The danger is as real as it was the first day we experienced it in Queensland.”

Updated at 7.00am GMT

6.40am GMT

There are now five fires burning at emergency warning level in South Australia.

The latest fire to be upgraded is a stubble fire at Dudley East on Kangaroo Island. Another fire is burning at emergency warning level near Menzies on the north side of the island.

The warning message from the CFS is very direct.

Act now. Leave, if the path is clear to a safer place, as it will soon be too dangerous to drive.

If you cannot leave, identify where you will seek shelter from the bushfire. Heat from the fire will kill you. Do not enter this area as conditions are dangerous.

The other fires at emergency warning level are at Maitland on the Yorke Peninsula, Cudlee Creek in the Adelaide Hills, and Virginia on Adelaide’s outskirts.

The cool change is tracking through SA at the moment, but that is not good news in the short term. It means a wind change, increased wind speeds, and the possibility of more dry lightning, as there’s no rain associated with the change.

Updated at 6.42am GMT

6.28am GMT

There’s a thunderstorm warning for South Australia, including some areas that are currently affected by bushfires. So that’s smoke, hail, and damaging winds, all in one place.

Updated at 6.29am GMT

6.25am GMT

Still in Victoria, a firefighter has reportedly been taken to hospital after suffering burns while trying to evacuate a childcare centre at Seaford, a suburb in Melbourne’s south-east.

The fire began as a house fire on Webb Street and spread to adjacent grasslands. It is uncontrolled and burning toward Frankston North, the CFA has said. The area is under a watch and act alert.

Updated at 6.29am GMT

6.21am GMT

Emergency warning issued for fire north of Ballarat

The Country Fire Authority has issued an emergency warning for a fast-moving grass fire burning north of Ararat, at the Lexton-Ararat Rd at Amphitheatre.

6.07am GMT

It’s good evening from me, Amy Corderoy, on the LiveBlog tonight. Calla Wahlquist will take over from now.

Updated at 6.08am GMT

5.57am GMT

5.54am GMT

It’s starting to feel apocalyptic…

5.52am GMT

Four South Australian firefighters have been treated for burns and smoke inhalation and three firefighting vehicles have been destroyed, CFS officials have confirmed.

The service has been called to more than 120 fires today, but resources from interstate have been hampered by weather conditions.

“We called upon aerial support from New South Wales and Victoria, but, unfortunately, the prevailing weather conditions meant that we couldn’t use them for all of this afternoon and they had to be grounded for safety reasons,” a spokesman said.

SA police commissioner Grant Stevens said three police officers had also been injured.

“We have had three police officers who have been affected by smoke, one being admitted to hospital as a result of a fire in Rennella,” he said.

Updated at 6.16am GMT

5.45am GMT

Loss of life in South Australia fire zone

One person has died in South Australia and another is unaccounted for in the Cudlee Creek fire, the South Australian Premier has confirmed.

Steven Marshall described the incident as “very sad” and thanked authorities for doing all they could to help the victim.

“I want to say thank you very much to all of the volunteers who have done everything they possibly can, our CFS, our MFS, ambulance officers, State Emergency Services for the outstanding work they have done I will Oxley police commissioner to provide more details in a moment regarding the tragedy which has occurred in Lameroo,” he said.

SA police commissioner Grant Stevens said the person had died in a vehicle accident.

“It is unclear at this time the exact circumstances of the vehicle collision and because of the fire, but they are currently being investigated,” he said.

Updated at 6.17am GMT

5.37am GMT

Australia records second hottest day on record

Australia recorded its second hottest day on record on Thursday, with an average maximum temperature of 41C (105.8F), the Bureau of Meteorology says.

It continues the record stretch this week: the last three days are the three hottest recorded.

Tuesday 17 December recorded an average of 40.9C across the continent, beating the previous record of 40.3C set on 7 January 2013.

That new benchmark was smashed on Wednesday, which brought a new mark of 41.9C.

Updated at 5.43am GMT

5.36am GMT

Eight South Australians taken to hospital

Eight people have been taken to hospital with burns and smoke inhalation in South Australia as fires continue to burn there, the ABC reports.

5.34am GMT

This is what we know so far:

  • Dangerous fires are still burning in NSW and South Australia this afternoon.
  • In NSW Gospers Mountain and Green Wattle Creek are still listed at emergency level.
  • In South Australia there are out-of-control fires in Maitland, Cudlee Creek and Lamaroo.
  • People have been urged to leave their houses in four Victorian towns, as much of the state has been suffering from poor air quality caused by the NSW fires.
  • “Catastrophic” fire conditions are expected at three sites across NSW tomorrow: Greater Sydney, Illawarra-Shoalhaven and the Southern Ranges.
  • The NSW RFS says it would be a “miracle” if more properties weren’t lost, and that people in fire zones should not assume fire trucks will reach them if disaster strikes.

Updated at 5.34am GMT

5.26am GMT

5.24am GMT

Fire authorities have warned motorists to be vigilant, and avoid contributing to congestion in fire-affected areas.

Here is where you can find information on fire-related road closures in your state:

Updated at 5.24am GMT

5.22am GMT

Residents in four Victorian towns urged to leave their homes immediately

Residents in four Victorian towns have been urged to leave their homes immediately as two bushfires rage out-of-control.

A watch-and-act warning was issued on Friday for residents of Dunkeld, Karabeal and Moutajup, about 280km west of Melbourne near the Grampians.

“Don’t wait, leaving now is the safest option – conditions may change and get worse very quickly,” the warning reads.

The bushfire is travelling in a southerly direction towards the Glenelg Highway, prompting road closures.

People are advised not to return home if they are out, to travel to the home of family or friends that are away from the warning area and to take their pets, medication and phones.

Another watch-and-act warning was issued at Brookville, about 390 kilometres northeast of Melbourne.

A wind change is pushing a fire at Marthavale, which has been burning since November 21, in a northerly direction towards the town.

Residents there are also being advised to leave, warning “emergency services may not be able to help you if you decide to stay”.

More than 40 fire trucks are at the scene.

The Marthavale fire is directly west of three fires in the East Gippsland region, where about 500 firefighters from the County Fire Authority are working to contain the blazes and strengthen containment lines.

5.12am GMT

5.05am GMT

Our reporter Helen Davidson is on the ground at the firefront:

Aerial support has been going all day, without relief. At least one helicopter, a black hawk, and a skycrane, have been feverishly darting around the ridges and gullies surrounding Balmoral, Buxton, and nearby villages.

To the east of Balmoral, members of the local brigade are watching the support dump tonnes of water on a fire that is refusing to die down.

A couple, who have lived on this picturesque edge of the bush for 20 years, have seen three fires go through, and are staying to defend their home if the blaze just over the Ridgeline gets blown towards them.

“We always defend,” Justin says. “You can’t leave t up to the firies, they’ve got enough to do.”

This isn’t always advisable, by the way, but Justin and Helena built their house to be certifiably defendable, and had two fire captains come through to check.

It’s been tested – a 2013 fire hit them but the house survived.

I ask how he’s felling about tomorrow.

“It’s going to be bad,” he says.

“If the wind picks up everyone is going to be in trouble. Heat we can manage but wind is what drives the fire. With that southerly that came through yesterday, you saw what happened to Bargo.”

He gestures at three different directions where fires ring the village. No matter what the wind does, it’ll push a fire towards them.

“Buxton is even worse because they’re surrounded.”

As we stand talking, the fire on the ridge kicks up again and a thick plume of black smoke shoots up as a couple of trees start crowning. It’s a long night ahead.

Updated at 5.27am GMT

4.59am GMT

The Gospers Mountain fire will tomorrow move towards the Kurrajong Heights area and up towards the Blue Mountains.

NSW RFS Deputy commissioner Rob Rogers says while the winds wont drive the fire towards the Blue Mountains, the steep terrain will.

“There will be some burning in the far west part of the mountains that is going on tonight to try to protect some of those communities around Blackheath,” he told a press conference on Friday afternoon.

“And that is simply to try to protect as many properties as we can tomorrow for what we know will be a tough day.”

Fire authorities are also working to prevent the Green Wattle fire from heading north, Rogers says.

“We know tomorrow… that fire will start causing us problems again and we will be dealing with that and we will be doing our best to stop it getting across the Hume Highway, because if it gets across the Hume Highway that opens up a whole new front for us.”

4.47am GMT

‘A miracle’ if more homes aren’t lost tomorrow: NSW RFS

More than 800 buildings have now been lost to the NSW fires, with more to come amidst catastrophic conditions tomorrow.

“I think that’s a fairly sure thing that we will lose homes somewhere tomorrow. It would be a miracle if we didn’t,” deputy commissioner Rob Rogers says.

Updated at 4.52am GMT

4.40am GMT

NSW RFS: ‘We cannot guarantee we will get firetrucks to you tomorrow’

The NSW Rural Fire Service has warned people living in catastrophic fire danger areas that they cannot count on the service to arrive in time to save them tomorrow.

Deputy commissioner Rob Rogers told a press briefing this afternoon that people should consider relocating.

“Do not put yourself near an isolated bush area if your home is directly on the bush. Do not be there in the heat of the day. We cannot guarantee [we will] get firetrucks to you.

“We have so much in the landscape. We will do our best but we cannot guarantee that.”

He said a number of major thoroughfares in and out of towns could be affected.

“Princes Highway will be affected by tomorrow. We have the Great Western Highway, the Bells Line of Road is already closed.”

Updated at 4.44am GMT

4.33am GMT

4.25am GMT

Fire activity is increasing again in Gospers Mountain.

4.24am GMT

A well-known vineyard is burning under catastrophic conditions in the Adelaide Hills.

Golding Wines, near Charleston, is in the middle of the danger zone for the out-of-control Cudlee Creek fire.

According to Nine News, “thousands” of vines were burning at the property and flames were licking toward Cellar Door. The winery hasn’t confirmed the extent of the loss, except to reply to one well-wisher on Twitter.

The Country Fire Authority in South Australia said “quite a number of properties” had been impacted by the Cudlee Creek fire, but that it was too early to confirm numbers.

Updated at 4.35am GMT

4.19am GMT

4.18am GMT

The out-of-control fire burning in the Adelaide Hills is unlikely to be contained soon, according to the state’s fire service.

Country Fire Service chief Mark Jones said crews were battling thick smoke as the fire continued to head south-east and burn towards the towns of Charleston, Woodside and Inverbrackie.

Jones said the terrain and the prevailing conditions were proving particularly challenging for fire crews.

“Access is difficult and dangerous for firefighters, the lack of visibility also makes it very difficult for crews,” he said.

Spot fires ahead of the main front were also thought to have damaged some properties around the town of Lobethal.

Many locals residents had opted to leave but some were remaining to defend their homes.

Updated at 4.28am GMT

4.09am GMT

The most recent emergency-level fire to threaten lives and homes in South Australia was triggered by lightening strikes, the Country Fire Service has confirmed.

“This isn’t just one lightning strike, there have been a number of lightning strikes. There is quite a grouping of fires in that area. Some are appearing to move towards together,” Deputy Chief Officer of the South Australian Country Fire Service, Andrew Stark, has just told ABC television.

“We have a number of aircraft working on that fire, as well as the aircraft we have working back in the Adelaide Hills, four on the firing Peninsula at this stage, and seven swing bombers and helicopter is working on the fire back in the Adelaide Hills.

“Currently, the two groups who have come to our assistance from New South Wales and Victoria are on the ground given that they are unsafe to operate in the Adelaide Hills at this time.”

The fire at Angle Vale, previously at emergency level, has been brought under control.

Updated at 4.10am GMT

4.04am GMT

4.03am GMT

People have been urged to leave Brookville, in Victoria, with an out-of-control bushfire threatening homes.

A “watch and act” warning was issued on Friday for residents of Brookville, in Victoria’s East Gippsland region, about 390km north-east of Melbourne.

“Don’t wait, leaving now is the safest option – conditions may change and get worse very quickly,” the warning reads.

Updated at 4.08am GMT

3.51am GMT

3.49am GMT

‘Catastrophic’ conditions for Greater Sydney and beyond tomorrow

Three NSW regions including Greater Sydney are set to endure catastrophic fire danger on Saturday amid intense heat, strong winds and dry conditions.

The NSW Rural Fire Service has forecast catastrophic fire danger for parts of the state – including Greater Sydney – as another “dangerously hot” day looms.

The RFS on Friday confirmed that Greater Sydney, Illawarra-Shoalhaven and the Southern Ranges would on Saturday endure catastrophic fire risks.

Greater Hunter and the Central Ranges would experience extreme fire risk.

The Bureau of Meteorology warned temperatures could rise into the mid-40s in western Sydney on Saturday, with strong winds and intensely dry conditions creating additional danger.

The RFS will address media on Friday afternoon.

Updated at 4.05am GMT

3.45am GMT

Emergency warning issued for Maitland (SA) fire

An emergency fire warning has been issued for Maitland, in the Yorke Peninsula.

It is now too late to leave and the Country Fire Service advises taking shelter in a solid building.

Updated at 3.51am GMT

3.42am GMT

Trying to find some good news today is pretty difficult. So please accept these adorable rescue puppies for your viewing pleasure.

3.35am GMT

And the record for hottest December day in Victoria falls as well.

3.33am GMT

Geoff Goldrick, a deputy captain with the NSW Rural Fire Service in Northern NSW, has written a powerful piece reflecting on the extraordinary events of this year.

2019 may go down in history as Year Zero of the climate apocalypse. The tsunami of extreme events has been so relentless that each is quickly forgotten in favour of its successor.

3.26am GMT

Three temperature records have fallen so far today in South Australia

3.19am GMT

3.09am GMT

Scary footage coming out of South Australia now, of the fire at Lobethal.

3.05am GMT

Fire heading towards Israelite Bay campsite in WA threatens homes and lives

Authorities have issued an emergency warning for a bushfire which is threatening the Israelite Bay campsite on Western Australia’s south coast.

The uncontrolled fire is moving quickly towards the campsite, near Esperance on Western Australia’s south coast, and poses a threat to both homes and lives in the area.

Firefighters are on their way and people in the area should leave now if there is a clear path.

2.56am GMT

Air Quality has deteriorated rapidly in Victoria, with much of Melbourne now listed as poor or very poor.

Air quality monitoring across parts of Victoria
Air quality monitoring across parts of Victoria
Photograph: EPA Victoria

Updated at 3.02am GMT

2.48am GMT

View of the smoke from the NSW bushfires shrouding Melbourne’s CBD:

And here is an aerial view of the smoke:

Updated at 2.49am GMT

2.47am GMT

Properties feared lost in SA fires

Properties are thought to have been lost or damaged and others remain under threat from two serious bushfires burning near Adelaide.

Country Fire Service chief Mark Jones said the fires in the Adelaide Hills and at Angle Vale, both subject to emergency warnings, were unlikely to be contained soon.

The CFS says 28 fires have been sparked across the state amid catastrophic fire conditions on Friday, AAP reports.

Jones said the terrain and the prevailing conditions in the Adelaide Hills, were making access difficult for fire crews.

“The lack of visibility also makes it very difficult for crews,” he said.

Spot fires ahead of the main front were thought to have damaged some properties around the town of Lobethal with the blaze now burning towards Woodside.

Properties were also thought to have been damaged or lost in the Angle Vale blaze, but Jones said it was too early to confirm details.

The CFS had 59 fire trucks and 11 aircraft tackling the Adelaide Hills fire with 31 trucks and six aircraft deployed to Angle Vale.

More than 500 firefighters were in the field across both incidents and extra aerial resources have also been brought in from NSW and Victoria.

Updated at 2.49am GMT

2.37am GMT

A severe thunderstorm warning has been issued for parts of South Australia

First the fire, now the rain.

2.35am GMT

2.27am GMT

Four firefighters have been injured in South Australia at the Cudlee Creek fire, which is at emergency level. It’s currently burning in a south-east direction towards Woodside.

2.19am GMT

Tomorrow’s conditions are looking to be worse but O’Connor is barely even thinking about that yet.

He sighs.

“What you can see we’ve got now – we’ve got the potential where the village is going to be sandwiched from both sides. We’re coming in from the west, and from the east. Our village has never been affected from the east before.”

He says the conditions are erratic, volatile, and the wind is completely unpredictable, pushing fire right into the village before retreating and making another advance.

He says residents had plans in place and most people left yesterday, heeding the warnings.

O’Connor is fielding a lot of calls from residents but says that’s what they want. Today, as occurred five times yesterday, residents will come to the station to shelter if an emergency klaxon sounds.

Updated at 2.22am GMT

2.11am GMT

“A massive amount of village was taken yesterday”

We’re in Balmoral where the situation is incredibly serious. There are fires on both sides of the village, which was hit five times yesterday by the Green Wattle Creek blaze.

Several houses are confirmed lost, and as we sit here residents are walking into the fire station having been forced to abandon their property. Several waterbombing aircraft, including the skycranes, are flying overhead trying to control a blaze to the east before a wind change which is is predicted any time.

Brendan O’Connor is the brigade captain of the RFS village unit here, and is visibly shaken.

“A massive amount of village was taken yesterday … and then the lives and the injuries,” he says. “It’s just such a tragic thing, unfortunately we’ve seen too much of it this year. It’s just wearing everyone down.

“We’ve lost at least six to eight homes in our village. What it did, it crossed over to our eastern side of our village, so we still have very active fire on our western side plus on our eastern. It’s now moving up on the main body of our village itself.”

A skycrane roars overhead as we speak.

“They’re fighting as hard as they can to stop us losing more properties in our village.”

Two firefighters died here, and three others are in induced comas after a burnover in Bargo.

“Most of us have worked with those gentlemen, so our sincere condolences to the families. It’s absolutely shattering,” says O’Connor.

“We’ve know those guys [from Bargo] for 20-odd years, so we’re as close as family can be. It’s absolutely heartbreaking for every one of us. It’s just so tragic, so tragic.”

Updated at 2.22am GMT

1.59am GMT

Victorians are now facing very poor to hazardous air quality in some parts of the state.

Have a look at the time lapse as it captures the smoke rolling in.

The Latrobe Valley and Melbourne are both predicted to have very poor air quality.

1.50am GMT

The Cudlee Creek fire in the Adelaide Hills is burning in a south-easterly direction towards Woodside.

Updated at 1.53am GMT

1.46am GMT

While NSW areas closer to the water have felt some relief from the smoke, inland is still strongly affected, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Updated at 1.53am GMT

1.43am GMT

And haunting pictures from our reporter, Helen Davidson, on the ground witnessing the clean-up in Buxton.

1.43am GMT

1.39am GMT

If you haven’t already, check out our interactive map showing the scale of the fires compared to major cities. Here is the fire area mapped over London.

The size of the NSW fire zone, compared to London.
The size of the NSW fire zone, compared to London.
Photograph: The Guardian

1.28am GMT

Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains is at watch and act level.

1.23am GMT

Emergency warning for second SA fire

An emergency warning has been released for the Northern Expressway Angle Vale fire.

This means homes and lives are under threat at two locations around Adelaide. Already 36 firetrucks and eight aircraft have been sent to fight the Cudlee Creek fire, with a further 20 sent to Angle Vale, which is also burning uncontrolled in grassland.

The fire is burning towards homes at suburban Munno Para Downs, AAP reports.

In both cases, the Country Fire Service says crews are unable to stop the fires from spreading.

Updated at 1.48am GMT

1.18am GMT

The federal and state governments have also announced they will provide m to attract tourists back to fire-ravaged Queensland communities.

The federal and state government funding is a stimulus for tourism-reliant areas hit by fires that includes the Scenic Rim, southern downs, Sunshine Coast and Noosa.

Tourism marketing for the affected areas will receive .5m, said the federal emergency minister, David Littleproud, and the state development minister, Cameron Dick. A further m will go towards restoring walking trails in the Lamington national park, and 0,000 will go towards industry recovery workers.

Updated at 1.30am GMT

1.17am GMT

Still in Queensland, where firefighters are continuing to keep watch on a dangerous fire burning on multiple fronts at Lowmead near Gladstone, where several homes are feared lost.

The eastern side of the fire is burning in the vicinity of Cross Road, Hills Road, Whytallabah Road and Kirkpatrick Road, according to AAP. Firefighters will continue to work with heavy machinery and water-bombing aircraft to strengthen containment lines.

While contained, the fire could burn for several days and crews will remain in the area.

Sunshine Coast residents also remain on alert after being forced to evacuate a volatile bushfire on Wednesday. It was the third major fire in the region since September, as police continue to investigate the cause.

Conditions are forecast to improve along the Queensland coast into next week, the Bureau of Meteorology says.

A forecaster, Kimba Wong, said the sea breeze from the central coast to the border could provide some relief. “Fortunately along the coastal fringe we do have the sea breeze coming in bringing a touch of moisture and slightly more moderated temperatures,” she said.

Updated at 1.29am GMT

1.15am GMT

Almost 70 fires rage across Queensland

Almost 70 fires are now burning across Queensland, jumping from 55 reported on Thursday, as the fire threat deepens.

Crews are braced for challenging conditions as a strong upper ridge sweeping across the south-east combines with fresh east-north-easterly winds on Friday, AAP reports.

The volatile conditions have prompted the weather bureau to reissue a severe fire warning for the Darling Downs and granite belt, central highlands and coalfields, and the eastern parts of the Warrego and Maranoa districts on Friday.

Areas of localised severe fire dangers are also in place for the eastern parts of the central west district.

The fires remain at “watch and act’ levels.

Updated at 1.28am GMT

1.10am GMT

In about 20 minutes the cool change will begin to sweep through South Australia, starting with Port Lincoln and heading to Adelaide about 4pm.

Updated at 1.27am GMT

12.58am GMT

Fire Brigade Union says the force is 400 staff short and facing further cuts

Leighton Drury, the NSW state secretary of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union and a serving firefighter, has slammed both the New South Wales and federal governments over what he calls a lack of leadership and resourcing.

Both the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, and the prime minister, Scott Morrison, have consistently said crews in the state have the resources they need to battle the more than 100 fires now burning across the state.

But at a press conference today Drury said the union believed the state’s professional firefighting force was 400 staff short, and he’d been told some regional crews were facing further cuts.

Drury told media that senior Fire and Rescue NSW figures had told him on Thursday that two regional communities – Urunga near Coffs Harbour on the state’s mid-coast and Peak Hill, south of Dubbo –would have their minimum staffing reduced from four firefighters to two as a result of budget cuts.

Drury said the cuts were emblematic of a wider lack of resourcing within Fire and Rescue NSW, the state’s professional fire service.

The union estimates that since 2011 firefighter numbers have remained at best stagnant while the state’s population has grown by approximately 800,000. The union believes the state’s force is 400 professional firefighters short.

“I’m calling on the premier, the treasurer and the emergency services minister to get in a room with Fire and Rescue NSW we know we’re 400 firefighters short across the state, 300 in regional NSW,” he said. “That’s just on current numbers, that’s not to deal with the crisis we’re dealing with right now.”

The state’s professional firefighters have been working alongside the Rural Fire Service volunteers.

“The RFS are doing all they can but, let’s be honest, you can’t ask people to do things for free for months on end they have their own lives. We’re coming into Christmas, they have their own jobs, they’ve got to earn a quid which is why we need professional firefighters to take care of these fires.

“The RFS, they’ve been at this now for three months this is not just the last two weeks. These fires started in August. We’ve been telling the government since March. They’re not listening and they need to fix it.”

Updated at 1.11am GMT

12.54am GMT

And there are 100 fires burning across the state, with half yet to be contained.

Updated at 1.08am GMT

12.53am GMT

The air certainly looks a lot clearer in NSW this morning but the rolling tally of hazardous PM 2.5 over the past 24 hours shows just how badly the state has been affected by the fires.

The worst-hit area over the past 24 hours was Orange, where the PM 2.5 index reached more than 1,000, or 10 times the limit recommended by the National Environment Protection Measure for Ambient Air standard.

Thirty of the 36 recorded sites in NSW exceeded the recommended limits for PM2.5 over the past 24 hours. In greater Sydney the worst-hit area was Oakdale, in Sydney’s south-west, which was five times the limit.

The latest Air Quality Index published by the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage
The latest Air Quality Index published by the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage
Photograph: NSW Office of Environment and Heritage

Updated at 1.08am GMT

12.40am GMT

David Littleproud has also responded to criticism of Scott Morrison’s “want to be there” comments that were attacked by Anthony Albanese earlier today.

The emergency management minister says the statement was “nit-picked” and “twisted” and was meant to pay tribute to the desire of volunteers to help out.

“I get the emotion at the moment but we need to cool it a bit,” Littleproud said.

“We’ve got to be careful not to nitpick every statement. [These were] quite innocent comments about the commitment of our firefighters … I think that is the point he tried to make. To twist it, it is not the time to do it. It is about the professionalism of those men and women.”

Updated at 1.07am GMT

12.39am GMT

12.35am GMT

Emergency services minister speaks to press about PM’s decision to go on holiday

Australia’s emergency management minister, David Littleproud, is speaking now.

He says that “retrospectively”, Scott Morrison might not have gone on holiday had he known how bad the bushfire crisis would be.

“You cannot predict mother nature,” he says. “And as this has intensified, obviously the prime minister has made the decision he needed to come back. Retrospectively, it would have been great to know, and he might not have taken his leave.”

A reporter asks, given that the fires had begun before Morrison left, should “he probably have stuck around”?

“That’s a matter of commentary,” Littleproud says. He says “there were always mechanisms in place” for other members of the executive to keep people safe in emergencies.

“He is a human being and we all know time to recharge. I personally needed time to recharge as well. I am no saint in comparison to these brave men and women on the frontline.”

Updated at 1.06am GMT

12.34am GMT

In contrast, here is the view of Parliament House last night.

Updated at 12.37am GMT

12.23am GMT

People in Cudlee Creek, SA, urged to take shelter in solid buildings

An update on the Cudlee Creek fire: The SA Country Fire Service is appealing to people to shelter from the fire in solid buildings.

Eight water-bombing aircraft and 34 firetrucks have been deployed to the out-of-control bushfire burning in the Adelaide Hills amid catastrophic weather conditions, AAP reports.

An emergency warning is in place for the blaze at Cudlee Creek which is burning in a southerly direction.

The Country Fire Service says it is an immediate threat to lives and homes as it burns uncontrolled in grassland. Conditions in the area are continually changing.

A second fire has also broken out north of the city at Angle Vale.

The fires come as SA is set to have its worst day for fire conditions so far this summer, with catastrophic risk declared in six districts.

Areas affected include Cudlee Creek, Lenswood and Lobethal at Mount Crawford, Forest Fox Creek North of Croft Road, between Cudlee Creek and Lenswood.

Updated at 1.08am GMT

12.19am GMT

In NSW, evacuees from the fire are recovering from their experiences yesterday and preparing for what is to come.

In the state’s southern highlands, Craig Madsen is in charge of one of the many evacuation centres.

The Mittagong RSL has become an evacuation site for those affected by the highly volatile Green Wattle Creek fire – the only NSW fire still at emergency today.

Yesterday the flames flared near Bargo, jumped up into the trees, destroyed dozens of homes and injured five firefighters, two of them seriously.

“When that fire flared up, it splits the shire in half, to a degree,” Madsen says. Parts of the region came to Mittagong, more went north to Picton bowling club.

“We had some people who escaped to the south to us, and a significant proportion, around Balmoral, Tahmoor, they went to the north.”

Today, he says, it has quietened down. But tomorrow the forecast is for extreme danger.

At the moment, we’re coping quite well. Yesterday was a little hectic but the Red Cross, Salvation Army and disaster assistance people rolled in, got everything organised quite well. Can’t fault them at all, well-prepared. The people who came in were looked after.

We had in excess of a hundred people I would say. A lot of people were there with their dogs and cats, they come with their animals. We had a lot of people from the hilltop area, that had been isolated.

Most of the evacuees were either allowed back to their homes or temporary accommodation was found for them by 10pm.

Updated at 12.32am GMT

12.01am GMT

NSW is set for “dangerously hot” conditions tomorrow, with maximum temperatures of 47C and treacherous surf.

And the Bureau of Meteorology warns that when a cool change comes through on Saturday afternoon the winds will be close to gale-force.

Saturday could be even hotter than yesterday, when two firefighters were killed and several others admitted to hospital during an exhausting day battling out-of-control bushfires.

The bureau’s acting NSW manager, Jane Golding, said temperatures would again rise into the mid-40s, with Penrith expecting a maximum of 47C and coastal areas hitting the mid-to-high 30s, AAP reports.

“That’s dangerously hot weather,” Golding said.

A gusty cool change is also expected on Saturday, which will bring some relief from the heat for central and southern NSW but create challenging fire conditions.

“Those southerlies when they come through [will] be close to gale-force,” Golding said. “The other thing with this system is it is bringing through some swell behind it, so dangerous conditions in the waters on the beach tomorrow as well.”

The good news is that once the cooler weather arrives, it should stick around “for quite a few days”, Golding said.

Updated at 12.29am GMT

11.45pm GMT

Extinction Rebellion protesters have taken over Sydney’s CBD, staging a dramatic protest on Pitt Street this morning.

Updated at 12.28am GMT

11.44pm GMT

The extreme heat in Victoria has caused several sporting events to be rescheduled or even cancelled.

Melbourne Victory’s W-League match against Brisbane Roar has been moved from Friday night to Saturday morning.

The game was scheduled to kick off at 5pm on Friday at Epping Stadium but, due to a forecast temperature of 42.6°C at kick-off, the FFA elected to move the game. It will now take place at 10.30am on Saturday, allowing the fixture to be held before the Roar fly back to Brisbane that afternoon.

New Zealand’s cricketers have abandoned the opening day of their warm-up game ahead of the second Test against Australia because of sweltering conditions forecast for Melbourne. Team management cancelled Friday’s play on player welfare grounds because of a predicted maximum temperature ranging from 43C to 45C.

The match against a Victoria XI at Scotch College, scheduled for Friday and Sunday, will become a one-day first-class match.

And Racing Victoria has called off Friday night’s horse racing meeting at Moonee Valley because of the extreme heat.

“Following consultation with our vets and the BOM it was determined that abandoning the meeting was the most appropriate decision for the welfare of our horses and participants,” RV said.

Updated at 11.49pm GMT

11.32pm GMT

The representative body for rural firefighters has issued a statement mourning the loss of the two volunteers killed last night.

The NSW Rural Fire Service Association president, Brian McDonough, said: “The RFS family is in mourning. Our hearts are breaking for the families, friends, and fellow crew members of Deputy Captain Geoffrey Keaton and Firefighter Andrew O’Dwyer from Horsley Park Brigade.

“Our members know that what we do can be dangerous, but nothing can take away the pain we all feel when facing such terrible loss.”

You can read more about the loss of these two men, both of whom were fathers, here.

Updated at 11.47pm GMT

11.20pm GMT

Emergency warning issued for bushfire in Adelaide Hills

An emergency warning has been issued for a bushfire burning out of control in the Adelaide Hills.

The Country Fire Service issued the warning for the fire, which is burning amid catastrophic weather conditions.

The CFS says the blaze near Cudlee Creek is an immediate threat to lives and homes.

The fire is burning uncontrolled in grassland and firefighters are unable to stop it spreading, AAP reports.

Updated at 12.27am GMT

11.18pm GMT

The day has barely started but South Australia is already sweltering. It’s not even 10am local time and Adelaide has surpassed the 40C mark.

The highest temperature so far in SA is 43.5°C, at Roseworthy.

Updated at 11.45pm GMT

10.58pm GMT

I don’t know if you noticed, but it was pretty hot yesterday. But not that hot, according to the Australian today, which has dedicated a large portion of its fire coverage to assuring readers that the Bureau of Meteorology is “cooling the past”to declare current heat record.

It’s a shame this blog doesn’t have emojis, because this seems the occasion for a face-palm.

The Oz quotes Dr Jennifer Marohasy, who has a PhD in biology and whose previous work on climate change and temperature analysis with the Institute of Public Affairs has been decried as “junk science”. She believes that the methodology of the bureau’s temperature calculations is “totally flawed” and that none of the weather we are experiencing is unprecedented.

Updated at 11.44pm GMT

10.42pm GMT

Good morning, this is Amy Corderoy taking over from Naaman Zhou on the blog this morning.

We’ve got a good read on our opinion pages from Brigid Delaney this morning, on the how 2019 has come to be defined by fire and ash.

[This is] the year some undeniable bomb dropped and dispersed its truth all around us in the form of dark particles in the air that didn’t just sit around us – but entered our bodies in unholy communion, its fine matter an anti-sustenance that made us sick and afraid.

Updated at 11.44pm GMT

10.25pm GMT

10.17pm GMT

Yesterday was Adelaide’s hottest night in 11 years, and the hottest night on record for the West Terrace observation site, on the edge of the CBD.

It only cooled to 33.6C degrees – at 10:24pm. At 11pm, it was back up to 37.9C.

It’s already 38.3C there now, as of 8.30am local time.

10.10pm GMT

RFS names firefighters killed in accident

The RFS has just shared the details of the two volunteers tragically killed last night.

They were 32-year-old deputy captain Geoffrey Keaton, and 36-year old Andrew O’Dwyer. Both were from the Horsley Park brigade.

Updated at 10.49pm GMT

10.08pm GMT

The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has also just spoken.

“It’s with a heavy heart this morning that we, of course, confirm the deaths of two RFS volunteers overnight,” she said. “It is a tragic blow for their family, for the RFS, extended family and of course for the entire community, and out of respect for those two brave outstanding young men, flags will be at half-mast today throughout the state.

“What the incident overnight demonstrates, which Commissioner Fitzsimmons will give further details on, is how fragile situations can be … Today milder conditions exist throughout the state but we still have two fire spots – hot spots – that are concerning RFS.”

She says people should check the Fires Near Me app, and live traffic sites.

“The best thing we can do to support our firefighters today, tomorrow especially as conditions will worsen, and across the next few days, is to make sure we take their advice.”

The state’s emergency services minister, David Elliot, adds that it “really is a black armband day for the Rural Fire Service”.

“The loss of these two young men, just dads from western Sydney, is a real tragedy.”

Updated at 10.33pm GMT

10.02pm GMT

Anthony Albanese has defended Scott Morrison’s holiday, saying it was a personal matter.

“It is a matter for the prime minister,” the opposition leader said. “He made the decision and it is a matter for his judgment when he goes on holiday.

“I think one of the issues has been the lack of information and transparency around this.”

But he said Morrison should retract comments he made earlier in the month, that volunteer firefighters “wanted to be there”.

“He should really retract those comments that he made because it was raised with me on multiple occasions this morning. Those comments are inappropriate. These people don’t want to be out fighting fires.”

Albanese said there should be a more national response, and more support for the state-based volunteer crews.

“We need to do much better at providing that support because this is not business as usual. These are extraordinary fires … But we need to do much better right now as well.”

Updated at 10.09pm GMT

9.57pm GMT

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian and former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull have both expressed their condolences to the families of the two firefighters who died last night.

Updated at 10.11pm GMT

9.50pm GMT

Scott Morrison ‘still trying to arrange’ return flight from Hawaii

Scott Morrison has just been interviewed on 2GB radio.

He says he made the decision to return home “as soon as possible” after the news of the deaths of RFS volunteers overnight.

But when asked specifically when he would return, he said he still did not know. Yesterday the acting PM, Michael McCormack, said Morrison was due to return to the PM role on Monday night.

Morrison was just asked when he would return. He said: “We are still trying to arrange that. We are working on that right now.”

He was also asked whether he understood how Australians could think it odd that news of his leave came while he was not in Australia but already overseas. He said he had been open about the leave.

“Michael [McCormack] stood up as acting PM on Monday,” he said. “I texted Anthony Albanese on Monday saying that Michael would be acting prime minister for the next week.”

He did confirm that he was in Hawaii. “The girls and Jen love holidaying in Hawaii and we’ve had a few nice days here,” he said.

“We spend a lot of time in Australia as well. We had planned to spend it down the south coast but we had to bring it forward due to those commitments in India and Japan.

“That’s what dads try and do when they work hard all year … That’s all I was trying to do. It’s just unfortunate it came at such an awful time.

“I am pleased to be returning,” he said.

Updated at 10.10pm GMT

9.27pm GMT

As of this morning, one fire in NSW is still at emergency level, the Green Wattle Creek fire, in the Wollondilly shire.

The huge Gospers Mountain fire, in the Blue Mountains, is at watch and act, after it flared to emergency yesterday.

There is still a total fire ban effective across NSW, which lasts until the end of Saturday – and a total fire ban today for SA.

9.12pm GMT

Morrison returning “as soon as possible”

Welcome to our continuing coverage of this week’s record-breaking heatwave, and the months-long bushfire crisis.

In unbearably sad news overnight, two Rural Fire Services volunteer firefighters have been confirmed to have died last night, when their truck overturned near Buxton in south-west Sydney. Three other members of the same crew are injured.

This comes after another crew of five was injured on Thursday afternoon. Two firefighters were airlifted to hospital with serious burns.

And just this morning, Scott Morrison issued a statement, apologising for “any offence caused” by his personal family leave, taken this week, and saying he will return “as soon as can be arranged”.

Yesterday, the acting prime minister, Michael McCormack, said Morrison would return to the job on Monday night.

On Wednesday, Australia experienced its hottest day on record, breaking the mark previously set on Tuesday.

Updated at 9.54pm GMT

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