Two Australian states have declared a state of emergency as bushfires bring a “catastrophic” threat to heavily populated areas of the nation’s east.
At least three people are dead and thousands have been displaced by three days of dangerous weather conditions in New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland.
But officials say the worst danger will come on Tuesday for areas around Sydney, the nation’s largest city.
More than 120 bushfires are burning across the two states.
In NSW, the blazes have scorched 970,000 hectares of land and destroyed 150 houses. Nine homes have been razed in Queensland.
“Everybody has to be on alert no matter where you are and everybody has to assume the worst and we cannot allow complacency to creep in,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Monday.
Australia’s conservative government has refused to be drawn on whether climate change could have contributed to the fires, in a response that has drawn criticism.
“My only thoughts today are with those who have lost their lives and their families,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday.
What is the threat?
NSW fire authorities have issued the maximum level of warning for the first time since new fire warnings were introduced a decade ago, after Australia’s deadly Black Saturday disaster.
The “catastrophic” warning is in place across the greater Sydney area and regions to the city’s north and south.
Temperatures are expected to reach 37C by Tuesday. Conditions are predicted to be worse than on Friday, when the firestorms began tearing through eastern Australia.
“Under these conditions, these fires will spread quickly and threaten homes and lives,” NSW Rural Fire Service said in a statement.
The danger is currently less severe in Queensland, but officials there say conditions could deteriorate later in the week.
Officials have confirmed that 2018 and 2017 were Australia’s third and fourth-hottest years on record respectively, and last year the nation experienced its warmest summer on record.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s State of the Climate 2018 report said climate change had led to an increase in extreme heat events and increased the severity of other natural disasters, such as drought.