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NSW endures longest spell of air pollution on record as bushfires menace Queensland | Australia news


Queenslanders have been warned to expect a tough bushfire day on Thursday as Sydney and large parts of New South Wales continue to struggle with “the longest and the most widespread” period on record of poor air quality and hazardous levels of pollution.

Queensland fire crews failed to beat back a large bushfire threatening lives and homes near Toowoomba on Wednesday night.

The state’s Rural Fire Service said on Thursday conditions were getting worse and any residents of Forest Ridge and nearby Cypress Gardens should leave immediately or follow their bushfire survival plan, as 24 fire crews tried to control the blaze.

“Fire crews are working to contain the fire but firefighters may not be able to protect every property,” the RFS said. “You should not expect a firefighter at your door.”

Part of the Gore Highway has been closed between Cypress Gardens and Captains Mountain since Wednesday evening as the fire raged south-west of Millmerran, outside Toowoomba. An evacuation centre was opened at the Millmerran showgrounds.

A second significant fire was burning at Carneys Creek near the NSW border, with people there being told to get ready to leave. Crews were fighting the fire on the ground and from the air.

Temperatures in many parts of Queensland were forecast to soar on Thursday, with Brisbane expecting 36C and Ipswich as high as 39C.

The south-east of the state was blanketed in smoke in many parts, as Sydney and large parts of NSW faced the “longest period” of air pollution on record.

The Bureau of Meteorology said heavy smoke billowing from bushfires surrounding Sydney would linger in the city basin until Saturday.

Hazardous levels of pollution were recorded in the east and south-west of Sydney on Wednesday. Heavy smoke has been blowing into the city from a large fire near Warragamba Dam near the Blue Mountains, the NSW Rural Fire Service said.

“An overnight temperature inversion will trap the smoke in the Sydney basin. This means smoke will settle in many areas and be very heavy,” the RFS said on Thursday.

“Smoke is also affecting areas including the north coast, central coast, Hawkesbury, Wollondilly, Queanbeyan and Shoalhaven areas.”

The NSW environment department said this season’s bushfire emergency had caused “some of the highest air pollution ever seen in NSW”.

“NSW has experienced elevated levels of pollutants as a result of smoke from the bushfire emergency, and dust caused by the severe drought,” a spokesman said.

“NSW has experienced other periods of poor air quality that lasted several weeks, including the 1994 Sydney bushfires and the Black Christmas bushfires of December 2001 to January 2002.

“This event, however, is the longest and the most widespread in our records.”

The Rural Fire Service issued widespread total fire bans for Thursday, with hot and windy conditions expected to worsen across the state.

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