Sydney’s skyline disappeared on Tuesday as smoke from nearby bushfires settled in the city and even seeped into buildings, setting off fire alarms.
“This smoky period we’ve been experiencing for the past month or so, it is unprecedented, so these conditions are a risk to people’s health,” Richard Broome, the New South Wales government’s director of environmental health, announced Tuesday.
Authorities are calling the current air pollution in New South Wales "the longest and most widespread" on state record.
Although there isn’t an official evacuation order in place, many are considering leaving until the smoke dissipates. Commuters are opting for breathing masks when they’re outside.
In addition, officials halted ferry service as the smoke ruined visibility.
“It is eerie, many people have decided to leave, and I’m going to do the same,” Hawkesbury Mayor Barry Calvert told Reuters. “I’ve been through this before about 20 years ago when I stood outside my house looking at flames 50 feet high, I decided then that I would leave early if it happened again.”
The closest fires are burning about 60 miles away from Sydney but the air pollution in the city center is 11 times more than its “hazardous” rating. Locals are posting images of ash falling from the sky and collecting on Sydney beaches.
“I know there are guidelines telling people to stay inside if they have certain health conditions, but that’s no good if your house isn’t sealed and you can’t afford an air filter,” Dr. Kim Loo told The Guardian Australia.
Hospital admissions have increased about 25 percent over the past few weeks, with a particular increase in those with respiratory problems.
Several office buildings in downtown Sydney — including the headquarters of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service — were evacuated when the smoke set off fire alarms, according to The BBC.
As of Tuesday, there were 85 wildfires burning across New South Wales. Forty-two were uncontrolled.
Since the bushfires broke out in September, at least six people have died and more than 700 homes were destroyed. The fires have burned almost five million acres of land in New South Wales alone.
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