For the fifth day in a row Australia’s largest city has been choking from the smoke of the massive bushfires burning just a few miles from its outer suburbs. For any Sydney residents who might not be watching the blanket coverage of the crisis on the nightly news, the dirty gray skies and the blood-red sunsets are reminder enough of the infernos raging to the south and west of the city of 4.6 million.
The fires, which have been labeled the worst since the 1960s, prompted the premier of New South Wales to issue a state of emergency on Sunday, giving the authorities the power to evict residents and demolish fire-affected buildings. Strong winds and heat wave conditions forecast for the next two days have led to warnings that two large fires burning in the Blue Mountains National Park could merge and form an unstoppable mega-fire with a front hundreds of miles long.
The potential threat to the city’s outskirts if such a situation develops means that the fires are no longer an existential threat. A large number of Sydney-siders have weekend homes in the mountains and others have friends or family who have lost their properties or have had to evacuate.
Already nearly a dozen villages have been isolated by the blazes, including Mount Wilson, which was used as one of the filming locations for Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby because of its beautiful gardens.