As authorities declare a state of emergency in one of Australia’s worst bushfire seasons, the smoke has reached as far as New Zealand.
Satellite imagery has shown that the smoke had already travelled across the Tasman Sea onto New Zealand’s South Island as of Saturday, and it’s expected to reach the North Island by Wednesday afternoon.
On Tuesday morning New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed to One News that 21 additional firefighters would be sent over to help battle the fires in New South Wales.
The fires have swept across New South Wales and Queensland, with the Rural Fire Service urging residents in high risk areas to evacuate ahead of looming “catastrophic” fire conditions.
On Monday afternoon NSW Health advised people in Sydney and the Hunter to take precautions as poor air quality’s expected from the smoke being blown south from fires on the Mid-North Coast.
“The best way to reduce exposure to smoke is to stay indoors with the doors and windows shut,” said NSW Health Director of Environmental Health, Dr Richard Broome.
“Air conditioning can also help to filter particles from indoor air.”
Bushfires have already killed three people in NSW and destroyed more than 150 homes. Officials expect adverse heat and wind conditions to peak at “unprecedented” levels on Tuesday.
The current severe outbreak, well before the summer peak, has caught many by surprise.
“Everybody has to be on alert no matter where you are and everybody has to assume the worst and we cannot allow complacency to creep in,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
The country’s most populous city has been designated at “catastrophic fire danger” for Tuesday, when temperatures as high as 37 degrees Celsius are forecast to combine with powerful winds for potentially deadly conditions. It is the first time Sydney has been rated at that level since new fire danger ratings were introduced in 2009.
With additional reporting by Colin Packham (Reuters).