Controlled bush fire cloaks Sydney in hazardous smoke

The Sydney Harbour bridge, enveloped by fog and bush fire smoke haze, on Sunday morning. The fire services carry out "hazard reduction burning" regularly to clear forest floors of debris that can fuel wildfires, but were forced to scale back plans as
The Sydney Harbour bridge, enveloped by fog and bush fire smoke haze, on Sunday morning. The fire services carry out "hazard reduction burning" regularly to clear forest floors of debris that can fuel wildfires, but were forced to scale back plans as pollution reached hazardous levels.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY • Sydney was enveloped in a thick bank of hazardous bushfire smoke yesterday, forcing the authorities in Australia's largest city to scale back controlled forest burning nearby.

Ferries were cancelled and the city's five million residents were told to stay indoors if necessary as air pollution levels spiked.

Levels of hazardous PM 2.5 pollution - particles that can seep deep into the lungs and cause respiratory illnesses - were among the worst in the world at more than 190 on the air quality index.

Australia's fire services regularly try to carry out "hazard reduction burning" outside summer months, clearing the forest floors of debris that can fuel wildfires. But they were forced to scale back plans for further burns yesterday as pollution reached hazardous levels and some union groups told workers to drop their tools if the smoke was too much.

"Light winds and an overnight inversion has resulted in smoke settling in low-lying residential areas," the fire service said.

The smoke was forecast to clear as the day progresses.

Fires ravaged much of eastern Australia in 2019-2020, killing 33 people, destroying more than 3,000 homes and enveloping Sydney and other cities in a soup of smoke and ash for months on end.

Climate change is believed to be making fire seasons longer and more dangerous, as well as limiting the time frame when controlled burns can be carried out safely.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2021, with the headline 'Controlled bush fire cloaks Sydney in hazardous smoke'. Subscribe