Bushfire smoke from the raging blazes in Victoria has blanketed Tasmania, forcing authorities to issue a public health alert.
Catastrophic fire conditions have been forecast in both Victoria and New South Wales, where scorching temperatures and unpredictable winds are expected to fan the hundreds of fires that continue to burn across large parts of Australia’s east.
“We have three main threats today – the fires themselves, the smoke, and the heatwave conditions,” Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Grahame Reader said.
Smoke from the fires has choked the nation’s air quality, turning daytime skies to near-night-time darkness in the worst-hit areas.
As the unprecedented bushfires continue to burn along Australia’s east coast, medical professionals are warning of unpredictable and lasting consequences for public health.
Chair of the Australian Medical Association’s ethics and medico-legal committee Chris Moy told The Guardian that the lasting impact of the bushfires and “the concern with respect to the air quality” was found.
Mr Moy said, “There are people who are going to probably die from these conditions”, particularly those “right at the edge of lung capacity”.
People with chronic conditions, such as asthma, are being urged to stay indoors by Tasmania’s Director of Public Health, Mark Veitch, as hot and windy weather increases fire danger.
The air quality is at its worst in the island state’s north and central regions, but the smoke has also turned skies above Hobart hazy.
Mr Moy’s warnings come after the world’s worst air quality was recorded in Canberra on Thursday, causing an elderly woman to die from respiratory distress after disembarking from a plane in the nation’s capital.
The ACT’s acting chief health officer, Dr Paul Dugdale, said the smoke was the worst since the 2003 bushfires and was “certainly the worst” since air quality monitoring started in the city 15 years ago.
A global air quality index ranked Canberra’s air worse than New Delhi, India or Lahore, Pakistan.
According to local health authorities, the air quality in Canberra was more than 10 times hazardous levels, having peaked at more than 20 times hazardous levels on Wednesday.
“One of the key things for us is that I don’t think we’ve actually ever seen anything like this before,” said senior manager of programs at Asthma Australia, Nigel Cooper.
A consultant emergency physician at Calvary hospital in Canberra, David Caldicott, told The Guardian that the “significant medical event” resulting from the smoke “tracks directly back to the issues of climate change”.
The “extensive” fire smoke also travelled across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, where it turned the country’s pristine glaciers brown.
Shocking photographs and videos were shared on social media earlier this week, showing the impact of the drifting smoke on some of New Zealand’s magnificent and usually icy white attractions.
– With AAP