A state of emergency has been declared for the Australian Capital Territory as a large bushfire burning south of Canberra continues to spread.
Hot weather and strong winds are fanning the flames and threatening Canberra and the surrounding areas.
“The ACT is now facing the worst bushfire threat since the devastating fires of 2003,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr said today.
“The combination of extreme heat, wind, and a dry landscape will place suburbs in Canberra’s south at risk.
“The Orroral fire has now grown to 18,500 hectares, that’s 185 square kilometres or nearly eight per cent of the total land mass of the Australian Capital Territory.”
Predictive maps show the fire could spread well beyond its current boundaries, sending embers even further out.
“This fire may become very unpredictable. It may become uncontrollable,” Mr Barr said.
“So, given the best advice available to me, I have just made a decision to declare a Territory-wide state of alert for the Australian Capital Territory.
“This is effective now and will be in place for as long as Canberra is at risk. A state of emergency is the strongest signal we can send to the ACT community that they must prepare themselves and their families.”
Canberra is facing two consecutive days of 41 degrees on Friday and Saturday with storms and 35C predicted for Sunday.
Evacuations and road closures are possible as the fire edges closer to Canberra.
ACT Emergency Services Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said tomorrow is expected to be the most dangerous day with “textbook” fire conditions.
“What are the 10 things contributing to having a really, really dangerous fire? They are lining up,” she said.
Heat, fire index rating, the territory’s topography and fuel loads are among the leading causes of concern.
Fears are growing the fire could break containment lines with ground crews having access to just one per cent of the spread due to inaccessible terrain.
“It has been unpredictable. It remains challenging. It is difficult to access. This fire could create its own weather system,” Ms Whelan said.
“If all of what I have just outlined occurs, there is a chance this fire could break containment lines.”
Smoke is making it difficult for aircraft to fly over certain areas of the fire ground.
Mr Barr said the declaration was made to allow Canberrans, especially those south of Tuggeranong, time to prepare for the weekend.
“The state of emergency is the strongest signal we can send to the ACT community that they must prepare themselves and their families,” he said.
“I understand the anxiety this announcement will cause, especially for those who lived through the 2003 bushfires. This is the first time a state of emergency has been declared since that tragic event.”
The 2003 fires killed four people and destroyed more than 500 homes.