New blazes break out as Australians take shelter from intense bushfires
12/11/2019 09:59, New South Wales /Australia

(TAP) - Tens of thousands of Australians took shelter on Tuesday after authorities warned it was too late for them to leave their homes as bushfires raged across a vast area of the country's east coast.

Officials issued 14 emergency warnings in New South Wales (NSW), each covering several communities, by late afternoon as more than half the 78 fires across the state burned uncontrolled amid "catastrophic" conditions.

A fire that erupted in Sydney's northern suburbs in the late afternoon immediately cut off exit routes for some residents, a sign of the intensity of blazes erupting in tinder-dry bush.

"Complacency kills - we cannot afford for people to be complacent," New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters in Sydney.

"This will only worsen throughout the afternoon as the weather conditions continue to deteriorate, and particularly those strong winds strengthen," he said.

Fitzsimmons said in an afternoon update a firefighter battling a blaze had suffered a heart attack, although his condition was unknown.

Bushfires are a common and deadly threat in Australia's hot, dry summers but the ferocity and early arrival of this year's outbreak in the southern hemisphere spring has caught many by surprise.

Blazes have been spurred by extremely dry conditions after three years of drought in parts of NSW and Queensland, which experts say has been exacerbated by climate change.

The current outbreak, which killed three people and destroyed more than 150 homes at the weekend, has been fanned by an unprecedented combination of high temperatures and strong winds.

Most of the 14 emergency warnings issued by authorities on Tuesday, including the South Turramurra fire 20 km (12 miles) north of central Sydney, told affected residents they must seek cover and that it was too late to flee their homes.

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