Australia fires: Crews battle blazes across NSW and Queensland

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2:25 a.m. ET, November 12, 2019

Blazes have destroyed three times more land in New South Wales than entire fire season last year

A bushfire burns outside a property near Taree, 350km north of Sydney on November 12.
A bushfire burns outside a property near Taree, 350km north of Sydney on November 12. Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

New South Wales is "entering uncharted territory" with fire emergencies all across the coast of Australia's most populous state, Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott said in a speech to parliament on Tuesday.

"What we've burnt through so far this bushfire season, and we haven't even reached summer ... is actually three times the amount we burnt in the total period of last season," he said.

"This is a very real emerging disaster which we need to take on and consider as being something that this state may not have ever seen before."

6:33 a.m. ET, November 12, 2019

Where are most of the fires burning right now?

Although a lot of attention today has been focused on the New South Wales capital of Sydney, so far most of the serious blazes have been in the state's northeast.

There are 12 emergency fires burning in the state, with only a few minor blazes reaching the outskirts of Sydney's suburbs.

A catastrophic fire warning is still in force for the Sydney region due to dangerously dry and windy conditions.

1:33 a.m. ET, November 12, 2019

Firefighter suffers suspected heart attack, at least 12 emergency fires still burning

A bushfire burns outside a property near Taree, 350km north of Sydney on November 12.
A bushfire burns outside a property near Taree, 350km north of Sydney on November 12. Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

A firefighter has suffered a suspected heart attack while battling blazes in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

There are still at least 12 emergency fires burning in NSW as of Tuesday afternoon local time, out of a total 78 blazes across the entire state.

An emergency warning is issued when a fire is imminently threatening a town or community or has broken through containment lines.

"We simply can't rest easy at this stage -- we've got many hours left yet," Fitzsimmons said.

He added that while the situation was complicated in the northeast of the state, fires around the suburbs of Sydney had mostly been contained.

"We've had a number of fires in and around the Sydney basin area but the collective efforts of firefighters have meant that they've been able to get on top of those fires and bring them under control very quickly," he said.

1:01 a.m. ET, November 12, 2019

A 9-year-old boy deliberately lit a small grass fire, police say

Wild fires are raging across New South Wales -- but in a town south of Sydney, a nine-year-old allegedly lit a small blaze, CNN affiliate 9 News reported.

The boy reportedly set a small grass fire using a gas blowtorch on Tuesday in Worrigee, south of Sydney. Police tracked down the boy -- who had been hanging out with a group of other children -- and gave him a warning.

But the boy wasn't the only one to intentionally set fires, despite New South Wales' total fire ban.

Yesterday, a 27-year-old man allegedly lit a small campfire to boil water for cups of tea. He's been fined 2,200 Australian dollars (around $1,500).

In western Sydney, another man was reportedly caught burning fence post in a barbecue -- which led to a secondary blaze. That man has been hit with an infringement notice.

1:33 a.m. ET, November 12, 2019

How much danger is Sydney actually in?

The state of New South Wales is home to Sydney, Australia's most populous city.

But as fires rage around New South Wales, how much danger are Sydneysiders actually in?

Although wildfires have broken out in two of Sydney's northern suburbs, most parts of the city are not currently in immediate danger.

But the situation can change fast. The state's fire service is still forecasting "catastrophic fire danger" for greater Sydney -- the highest level of bush fire danger.

Check here for the fire service's latest advice.

12:50 a.m. ET, November 12, 2019

Emergency bushfire breaks out in Sydney's northern suburbs

A small but out-of-control fire has broken out in the northern suburbs of Sydney, with emergency services saying it is "spreading quickly."

It is the closest bushfire to the heart of Australia's largest city with most of the major blazes to the north of Sydney.

NSW Rural Fire Services said that residents were advised to not leave their properties and they were working to contain the fire in South Turramurra.

12:23 a.m. ET, November 12, 2019

Two schools destroyed, employee killed, in wildfires

A National Parks and Wildlife crew member fights flames in regional New South Wales on Tuesday.
A National Parks and Wildlife crew member fights flames in regional New South Wales on Tuesday. Darren Pateman/AAP Images via AP

Two public schools have been destroyed in the New South Wales wildfires, the state's Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said in state parliament on Tuesday.

Lee confirmed that an employee of a skills college had also been killed in the blazes, although he didn't elaborate further.

Mass school closures were announced on Tuesday amid worsening fire conditions across NSW. In total, almost 600 schools and colleges were shut across the state.

Nine other schools were evacuated on Tuesday as fires approached.

Lee didn't say whether the two schools had been destroyed on Tuesday or in earlier fires, which have been ravaging the state this month.

Three people have been killed in the fires and at least 100 homes destroyed so far.

1:04 a.m. ET, November 12, 2019

Protests highlight climate change's role in November bushfires

As emergency services struggle to contain dozens of fires across eastern Australia, political battles over the blazes are also raging across the country.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the New South Wales parliament this morning to call for work to support the firefighters and more action to contain climate change.

Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese was heckled by local residents when he said he wouldn't "politicize" the fires, after a question on how much climate change was to blame for the current crisis.

One of New South Wales' largest newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald, published an editorial this morning titled "Talking about climate change is not an insult to bushfire victims."

But the government's response has so far focused primarily on the current crisis and avoided discussion on what role climate change has played in the fires.

Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister in Australia's Liberal-National coalition government, slammed people who raised climate change in relation to the fires as "raving inner city lunatics."

10:53 p.m. ET, November 11, 2019

Fires and habitat loss to put koala populations under pressure

The widespread bushfires across northern New South Wales will put the local population of koalas under serious pressure, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary senior vet Michael Pyne told CNN-affiliate Seven News.

Pyne said they had seen a number of koalas already come through the sanctuary, some with very serious burns to their feet.

"The koalas often get to the top of the trees and ... when the koalas return to the ground that's when they get the nasty burns," Pyne said.

But he said the real danger was the combination of the destructive fires and the subsequent loss of habitat, which would put the already-threatened species under even more pressure.

"What we see here in the hospital is just tip of the iceberg of course. Sadly a lot of koalas don't escape the fires," he said.

"(And) the koalas that are remaining out there have very little food to go back to."