Bushfire smoke blankets Sydney as firefighters brace for heat, wind

Sydney:  A thick smoke haze from bushfires around New South Wales has blanketed the city of Sydney and its outskirts on Tuesday as three Australian states head into tough days with searing temperatures and high winds.
Locals woke up to foggy-looking skies and the stench of smoke even inside their homes, while the iconic Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge hid behind the grey skyline.
Sydney residents have been urged to “stay vigilant” against severe fire danger as temperatures surpassed 30 degrees Celsius and wind gusts reached 65 kilometres per hour.
Some 1,400 firefighters are currently battling around 50 blazes across the state of New South Wales (NSW).  The closest blaze to Sydney is the Gospers Mountain bushfire, which has burned more than 138,000 hectares including part of the Wollemi National Park, about 100 kilometres north-west of the city.
A “watch and act” warning was issued for the blaze, which firefighters have been unable to control for the past four weeks.
Six people have died and 577 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in New South Wales since the bushfire season started in late October, over a month earlier than usual. Some 1.6 million hectares of land have also been destroyed.
Official data shows pollution has reached “hazardous” levels in parts of Sydney and residents have been warned to avoid outdoor exercise.
Visibility has also been described as extremely low.  The smoke is likely to hang around for the next few days, according to New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS).
The smoke could clear overnight but “the conditions are really there for that sort of thing to return,” the Bureau of Meteorology’s stateregional manager Ann Farrell told reporters in Sydney.
“We really aren’t going to be out of the woods for the coming days with that air quality issue from smoke over the eastern part of thestate.”
About five million people live in Sydney, the most populous city in Australia and the capital of New South Wales, the country’s mostpopulous state.  In another fire-ravaged state, Queensland, about 70 bushfires were burning. — dpa