Firefighters staged an unprecedented protest outside Australian Parliament today calling for more resources and action on climate change, as a senior firefighter said the brigade could not "perform miracles".
Residents were being evacuated from their homes as bushfires ravaged the outskirts of Sydney as Australia’s bushfire crisis continues.
In New South Wales alone more than 7,000 fires have burnt through more than two million hectares since July, killing six people and destroying 673 homes.
On Thursday a group of firefighters held a protest and media conference in front of Parliament House demanding action on climate change and more resources for firefighting services.
Mick Tisbury, Commander at the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and a veteran of more than 30 years as a firefighter, said the severe conditions caused by historically bad rainfall and high temperatures are “absolutely demoralising”.
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“We are fearful of the fire season we are going to cop – we’ll do the best we can but we can’t perform miracles. People are going to lose their properties – unfortunately, people will probably lose their lives – it won’t be from lack of trying but that’s just the reality,” he told local media.
On the same day as the protest, NSW Rural Fire Service issued emergency warnings for fires in six regions and the Bureau of Meteorology issued a road safety alert for Sydney because of smoke affecting visibility.
Evacuation advice was issued for residents near the fire at Gospers Mountain, which has burnt through 230,000 hectares of land on the outskirts of Sydney. The RFS warned anyone in the Colo Heights area that it is too late to leave and that residents should seek shelter as the fire approaches.
The smoke in Sydney is now three times worse than any bushfire season in the past five years.
In the past five years there were only five instances of a daily maximum Air Quality Index above 100 in Greater Sydney. In November and December so far there have been more than 20 readings above 200, which indicates "hazardous" air quality.
On Tuesday the AQI hit 669 – the equivalent of smoking 30 cigarettes per day.
Sydney resident Donna Hogan, who has asthma, told The Telegraph she has only left her home because she must attend her university.
“I have upped my asthma medication to a super high level. Students at UNSW are still doing their exams in this nightmare,” she said.
“The smoke has interrupted my sleep, inhibited my ability to study… I use a surgical mask but it’s ineffective. I can’t walk to university, I have to get an Uber to go less than one kilometre.”
In April a group of 23 former chiefs and deputy chiefs of fire services across Australia warned the Government that the country was not prepared for the impact of climate change on the fire season, and needed stronger climate change policies and more resources for firefighting.