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Smoke blankets Sydney amid spreading wildfires

China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-22 09:16

A man jogs under the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a smoke haze hangs over Sydney, Australia, on Thursday. RICK RYCROFT/AP

PERTH, Australia - Hazardous smoke blanketed Sydney on Thursday as wildfires burned across eastern and southern Australia.

Thick smog shrouded the country's most populous city for another day, leaving its iconic skyline barely visible two days after smoke created serious air quality issues.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service said the smoke came from around 50 wildfires burning mainly in northern parts of the state. Air pollution levels were reading nearly 10 times higher than the national standard.

"The smoke is expected to continue for several days," the fire service said.

Wildfires have destroyed more than 600 houses in Australia's most populous state.

The annual Australian fire season normally peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer, but has started early after an unusually warm and dry winter.

People with respiratory or heart conditions were advised to stay indoors and seek medical advice when necessary.

The fire danger has spread, with the authorities declaring a high-fire risk for parts of Victoria state to the south. It is the first time in a decade Victoria has been declared Code Red, with the highest fire risk and a statewide total fire ban.

Temperatures were forecast to exceed 40 C in the state's north.

Melbourne, Australia's second-most populous city, is forecast on Thursday to hit 39 C after falling just short of its hottest November minimum at 26 C overnight.

Victoria Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp warned Victorians to be vigilant. "Given fires could start and move quickly, you won't always receive a warning or be told what to do if a fire starts," he said.

The fire danger was also elevated to "severe" in the island state of Tasmania, off mainland Australia's southeastern coast, while more than 40 wildfires have broken out in South Australia.

Meanwhile, an online fundraiser for koalas injured in devastating bushfires topped A$1 million ($680,000) on Thursday, making it Australia's biggest campaign on the GoFundMe platform this year.

A crowdfunding page set up by the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital to provide automatic water drinking stations for wild koalas soared past A$1 million, with donations from more than 20,000 people from countries including the United States, France and England.

The wildlife charity's Help Thirsty Koalas Devastated by Recent Fires drive, which had an initial goal of just A$25,000, got more donations than any other campaign in Australia this year, GoFundMe said, and is the second-biggest since the platform launched in Australia in 2016.

It is one of 700 bushfire-related fundraisers launched on the platform in the past 10 days, which to date have raised a combined A$2 million.

The next-biggest online appeal has raised A$60,000 to support firefighters and people affected by the blazes.

The koala hospital, nearly four hours' drive north of Sydney, has rescued 31 koalas from the scorched bush in recent weeks, and said it had been "overwhelmed by the kindness, good wishes and support from the Australian and international community".

It plans to use the excess funds to deliver koala drinking stations to other parts of the state, purchase a water-carrying vehicle to replenish the stations, and to establish a koala breeding program.


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