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Smokey Sydney Harbour Bridge
Photograph: Instagram/@land.of.the.rose

Bushfires reach Greater Sydney, pumping more smoke into the city

Maxim Boon

The suffocating air quality conditions that have persisted in the city since Monday look set to continue until at least the weekend, with as many as five uncontrolled bushfires, currently classed as emergency level, fast approaching the outskirts of Greater Sydney, releasing more smoke towards the city centre. According to the ABC, the closest blaze – at Green Wattle Creek in Kanangra-Boyd National Park, just 30 kilometres west of Campbelltown and 80 kilometres from central Sydney – is still advancing west towards nearby towns.

The severe bushfires that have ravaged New South Wales for weeks have shrouded Sydney’s skyline in a choking haze of smoke, turning the sunlight an eerily post-apocalyptic shade of orange. Sydney's air quality has been rated ‘hazardous’ throughout this week, as hot weather conditions and high winds have kept a smothering blanket of smoke particles in the city centre. The poor air quality has led health authorities to issue warnings about the severe impact such high levels of pollutants can have on children, the elderly and those with existing heart and lung conditions. There’s a consensus among both experts and regular Sydneysiders that this is an unprecedented situation.

The days of insistent smoke in the city now rank as the longest period of air pollution on record for NSW – beating significant periods of inner-city smoke and dust from major bushfires in 1994 as well as the infamous Black Christmas bushfires of December 2001 – with heavy smoke conditions set to continue until Saturday. The severe bushfire conditions are also likely to persist throughout the summer, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, with the state environment department adding that this season’s bushfire emergency has led to “some of the highest air pollution ever seen in NSW”. 

Concerns about the risk of more fires have now turned towards New Year's Eve and the potential dangers of Sydney’s world-famous fireworks display. The annual spectacular makes headline news around the world and brings an estimated $133 million into the local economy each year. However, with more than 100,000 pyrotechnics set to spout sparks across Sydney’s skies, the potential for these to cause additional blazes has led to calls for the epic display to be scrapped. Sydney mayor Clover Moore said on Tuesday that the usual NYE fireworks would go ahead, “if it’s the right thing to do at the time,” adding that if a total fire ban were in effect on New Year’s Eve the council would “do what [it] needs to do”. However, some privately organised fireworks displays around Sydney have been called off in recent weeks, not only because of the risk of fire but also out of respect for the communities devastated by this record-breaking fire season.

Details on how to protect yourself against Sydney's poor air quality can be found here.

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