State of Emergency declared as NSW prepares for 'catastrophic' bushfire conditions

More than a dozen schools across Sutherland Shire and St George will be closed Tuesday after catastrophic fire conditions were forecast for the greater Sydney area.

Temperatures in Sydney are expected to hit 37 degrees and winds are predicted to reach 50 km/h tomorrow, leading to the closure of more than a dozen schools in bushfire prone areas of the shire and St George.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said hundreds of schools across the state would be closed on Tuesday due to the expected bushfire threat as the Department of Education takes a "cautious" approach on advice from the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Alfords Point Public School, Bates Drive School, Bonnet Bay Public School, Bundeena Public School, Engadine West Public School, Grays Point Public School, Heathcote East Public School, Illawong Public School, Jannali Public School, Loftus Public School, Lucas Heights Community School, Menai Public School, Oatley West Public School and Yarrawarrah Public School will all close. Loftus TAFE, Botany Bay Environmental Education Centre and Royal National Park Environmental Education Centre will also close.

Sutherland Shire and St George will be on high alert for the next week after the NSW Government declared a state of emergency amid the catastrophic fire danger forecast.

Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the predictions were unprecedented for the greater Sydney area.

"We could not find a time in history ... where we saw indices reaching what we now know are catastrophic levels here in the Greater Sydney environment," he said.

"We are talking about something we haven't experienced before in Sydney in the Greater Sydney environment."

So what does a "catastrophic" fire emergency mean?

It means high winds and extreme heat can cause embers from existing fires to travel more than 20 kilometres ahead of the main firefront, Mr Fitzsimmons explained.

"Homes that are specifically designed and built to withstand bushfires are not done so for catastrophic conditions," he said. "Catastrophic conditions are where lives are lost, it's where people die."

Sutherland Shire mayor Carmelo Pesce advised residents to avoid bushfire prone areas, listen to the advice of the NSW Rural Fire Service and call triple zero in an emergency.

"With a total fire ban in place and weather conditions expected to worsen on Tuesday, I also encourage those who live near bush fire prone areas to have their bush fire survival plans ready," Cr Pesce said.

"The RFS will continue to provide updates for the community across their website, Facebook and twitter."

Cr Pesce said council works closely with local emergency services and will provide support if and when that is needed.

"We'll also provide local updates as they come to hand," he said.

"I want to thank all of our emergency service personnel and volunteers, especially those from Sutherland Shire, who are right now helping to fight fires in northern NSW."

Shire residents can access the most up-to-date bush fire information and advice by calling the NSW RFS Bush Fire Information Line on 1800 679 737.

With large parts of NSW already burning and fire conditions set to worsen, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons wrote to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Sunday night requesting she declare a State of Emergency under Section 33 of the State of Emergency and Rescue Management Act.

The declaration was made following advice from Police and Emergency Services Minister David Elliott and other frontline agencies across the state, granting emergency powers to the RFS commissioner.

"Our state has already been hit by some of the most devastating bushfires we have ever seen, with three lives lost and more than 150 structures destroyed," Ms Berejiklian said.

"With catastrophic weather conditions predicted for this week, particularly Tuesday with hot weather and strong winds, I have decided to take the commissioner's advice and make this declaration.

"It will ensure our state is best placed to respond to the predicted fire conditions."

It is the first time since new fire danger ratings were introduced in 2009 that Catastrophic fire danger has been forecast for Sydney.

The NSW Rural Fire Service said the catastrophic fire danger was forecast for the greater Sydney and greater Hunter areas on Tuesday due to high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity, making for conditions dangerous.

'Catastrophic' is the highest level of bushfire danger. Homes are not designed to withstand a fire under these conditions, and lives and homes are considered at risk.

If you are unable to leave, identify a safe location nearby, including a Neighbourhood Safer Place.

A statewide total fire ban has been declared for all areas of NSW for Tuesday.

The state of emergency declaration, the first since October 2013, allows powers to be transferred from the NSW government to the RFS commissioner.

Mr Elliott said this was an appropriate decision and sends a strong message that the directions of the RFS to the public during this period should be swiftly followed.

"Today's announcement shows the NSW government will always put the safety of the people in this state ahead of anything else. Our bush firefighters will be empowered during this period to ensure their directions are followed and community safety can be enhanced."

The declaration is valid for seven days from November 10.


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