Andrew Barr, the Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), on Friday declared a state of emergency amid a bushfire threat in the region.
Barr further said in a statement, “The combination of extreme heat, wind and a dry landscape will place suburbs in Canberra’s south at risk in the coming days”.
“The declaration of a state of emergency is the strongest signal we can send to the ACT community to prepare themselves, and their family, for the worst possible situation, he added.
“The state of emergency will remain in place until the city is no longer at significant risk,” the statement noted.
This is the first time a state of emergency has been declared in the territory since the 2003 bushfires that killed four people and destroyed almost 500 buildings.
Earlier on Monday, a massive bushfire in the Orroral Valley south of Canberra was sparked by an Australian Defence Force (ADF) helicopter.
Authorities managed to get it under control on Tuesday but temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius on Friday exacerbated the blaze.
On January 19, the Bureau of Meteorology in Victoria issued severe thunderstorm warnings for parts of the state and said that damaging winds and heavy rainfall were expected.
Earlier, hundreds of Australians were arrested for deliberately starting the devastating bushfires since September.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had said, “This is taking a very heavy toll,” adding to it that more than 1,500 homes lost to fires across the country since September.
Morrison also cancelled his official trip to India that was planned for this month in order to deal with a bushfire crisis ravaging parts of his country.
About 4,000 people in the town of Mallacoota in Victoria headed to the waterfront after the main road was cut off.
The impact of the bushfires has spread beyond affected communities, with heavy smoke engulfing the country’s second-largest city Melbourne and the national capital Canberra. Some government departments were shut in Canberra as the city’s air quality was once-again ranked the world’s poorest, according to independent online air-quality index monitor Air Visual.
The disaster has sparked growing public anger with Morrison. Rallies are planned on Friday to call on his government to step up efforts to tackle climate change, which experts say have helped fuel the fires.
They broke out before the beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere, which begins in December and where a shortage of rain is expected until the end of March.