Firefighters battle flames during bushfires near Taree, New South Wales Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Australians warned to seek shelter from bushfires as it's 'too late to leave' their homes

Eleven bushfires along the country’s east coast have been declared as emergencies.

RESIDENTS ALONG AUSTRALIA’S east coast have been told it’s now too late to leave their homes as out of control bushfires continued to burn in the region.

Thousands of firefighters have been deployed across New South Wales in anticipation of “catastrophic” conditions today, but were unable to prevent some fires from breaching containment lines.

Authorities told residents in fire-stricken regions to seek shelter, warning that they had no time to escape before their communities were engulfed.

Eleven of the more than 100 bushfires from Sydney to Brisbane have been declared as emergencies, with numerous towns under direct threat.

“Plenty of people have heeded the warnings and have left early,” said New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. “Obviously, others have chosen not to.”

“Our advice to those who still may be there is that it is too late to leave on most of these fires, and sheltering is now your only option.”

Experts have described the conditions as the worst on record, as spring temperatures climbed toward 40 degrees Celsius and winds topped 80km/h across a zone which has been plagued by persistent drought.

Even before unfavourable weather hit, the fires killed three people and destroyed at least 150 homes.

Strong west-to-east winds have spread existing blazes from dusty bushland to urban areas closer to the coast.

“The conditions are expected to get worse,” Fitzsimmons said, warning residents in adjacent areas to stay alert. “Complacency kills.”

bushfires-nsw Firefighters work on a controlled burn in Koorainghat in New South Wales AAP / PA Images AAP / PA Images / PA Images

Up to 600 schools were closed in the region, as well as many national parks, while a total fire ban was also introduced.

The military has also been brought in to help firefighters with logistics and water-dropping sorties, with more than 100 aircraft deployed.

In Sydney, authorities do not expect the city’s four-plus million people to be under direct threat, but a health warning was issued as a cloak of smoke haze drifted into the country’s biggest city.

This bushfire season is in its infancy but is already on track to be one of Australia’s worst on record.

In New South Wales alone more than a million hectares – roughly the area of Jamaica – have already burned, three times more than the whole of the last season.

- © AFP 2019

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