3 fatalities confirmed, 5 missing as unprecedented bushfires burn in New South Wales and Queensland, Australia


Devastating bushfires are burning in New South Wales and Queensland, Australia since November 4, 2019. Authorities have reported more than 150 properties destroyed, 3 fatalities, 5 people missing, and 40 others injured, as of November 9. Out of the 74 fires burning, 43 are still uncontained while 3 are at the emergency level. Locals are describing the scenes as apocalyptic.

The victims were identified as 69-year-old Vivian Chaplain, 63-year-old Julie Fletcher, and a man who has not been named yet.

On Saturday morning, NSW Rural Fire Service said over 100 homes and a school have been destroyed. RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons reported that this is just a preliminary figure as crews are still unable to reach wider parts of the affected areas.

Image credit: NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP / VIIRS. Acquired: November 9, 2019

"We are expecting that number to climb and we need to prepare ourselves for that number to climb potentially quite significantly because there’s lots of fire grounds," he said. "We simply haven’t been able to get people in to undertake even an initial assessment."

A Facebook post from the Pacific Palms Rural Fire Brigade showed the devastating destruction of the fires in New South Wales. "A furious fire had ripped through the town like none of us have seen and continued to make its way through properties in front of us," the post said. "Unfortunately we [have] seen things we’ll never forget today and never want to see again."

"There are more than 1 000 firefighters and support personnel out on these fire grounds at the moment," RFS crew said. "Our concentration is still very much on all of those fires still at emergency warning levels, which are predominantly in that Port Macquarie coast area and also towards Glen Innes."

At 04:00 UTC, a second fatality was confirmed by NSW Premier Berejiklian. "Our thoughts and prayers, of course, go to the families and loved ones of those two deceased persons."

"We are seeing situations in NSW with these fires we have not seen before and of course concerns remain mainly around the Glen Innes area and also Port Macquarie and Taree regions and the townships around those communities."

She continued, "Please know that we may not be through the worst of it but also please know that we have the resources, the equipment, and the personnel to make sure we do everything we can to protect lives and communities."

At around 00:20 UTC, residents in Queensland areas were ordered to evacuate immediately by the Fire and Emergency Service. Premier Palaszczuk said 36 fires were still burning in the state.

Furthermore, over 160 prisoners have been evacuated from jails between Glen Innes and Grafton as fires continue to rage through parts of northern New South Wales.

"Staff from Glen Innes, Grafton, and our Security Operations Group did an outstanding job under such circumstances to ensure everyone’s safety," Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin said.

As of 01:10 UTC, roughly 2 000 people have already been evacuated from Noosa bushfires in parts of Tewantin and Noosa North Shore.

Local RFS captain Paul Johnston was struggling to comprehend the chaos he witnessed while fighting the fires near Nymboida River. "It was a storm. It wasn’t a fire, it was a storm. It was a firestorm," he said.

A local resident named Kim described the terrifying sight of the approaching fires, "The whole sky was red. It was pretty horrible."

At around 03:50 UTC, Fitzsimmons warned that the death toll is likely to rise as seven people are said to be missing. "We can’t rule out the really grave concerns that there could be more losses or indeed more fatalities as we get through and identify details across these fire grounds," he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said army reservists could be deployed if needed to provide support.

At 07:30 UTC, a state of emergency has been declared across 42 Queensland regions. Authorities warned residents to brace for worse weather conditions over the following days.

As of 13:30 UTC, RFS reported that there are still "74 bush fires across NSW, 43 still not under control. 1 fire remains at Emergency Warning at Hillville Rd on the Mid-Coast and 15 at Watch and Act."

Featured image credit: Pacific Palms Rural Fire Brigade

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