Australia is experiencing some of the worst bushfires in the country’s history, but that’s not going to stop Sydney from enjoying an annual New Year’s Eve tradition. Fireworks in the country’s largest city will proceed like normal tomorrow night, despite the fact that the region is under a total fire ban and many smaller towns are cancelling their fireworks due to fire risks.
New Year’s fireworks are a long tradition in Sydney, akin to fireworks on Independence Day in the U.S. since it’s summer in the southern hemisphere and Australia is one of the first places on the globe to ring in the New Year. But the fireworks have become a controversial topic lately, given the climate emergency that’s currently happening down under.
Sydney had to receive a special exemption from local fire authorities to continue the fireworks show this year. The exemption was just announced today after several days of debate about how appropriate it might be to go on with the party, and one local politician said that the risk was too high and the fireworks should be cancelled out of respect for the firefighters.
The Sydney Morning Herald published an editorial in support of the $6.5 million (£3.4 million) fireworks event today, writing that, “Just as troops need entertaining in times of war, we all need a bit of respite and joy. For many people, the spectacle of the fireworks over our beautiful Sydney Harbour can provide that.”
Many right-wing politicians have come out in support of the fireworks as well, saying that the party will be a way to heal the community.
A mural by artist Scott Marsh depicting Prime Minister Scott Morrison on holiday in Hawaii is seen on December 26, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. The Prime Minister returned to Australia from a family holiday on Saturday 21 December, following intense criticism for taking leave while bushfires burned across Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
“We appreciate that there is a lot of suffering in the community at the moment,” the state’s Premier Gladys Berejiklian said over the weekend. “[New South Wales] has always been a state that’s hopeful about the future, that’s resilient, that’s optimistic. And we need to stay strong so we can keep supporting our communities that are doing it tough.”
But plenty of others are upset at the idea that so many people are dying from the bushfires and feel it’s inappropriate to just go on with the show. Another volunteer firefighter died today roughly 5 hours southwest of Sydney while battling the blazes. Premier Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have been criticised for not doing enough to address the blazes, and Morrison had to be shamed into returning to Australia because he was holidaying in Hawaii before Christmas.
The entire country has been experiencing vicious heatwaves throughout December and tomorrow looks like it’s going to be another scorcher. The forecast for Tuesday includes a high of 33 degrees Celsius in Sydney, with the Bureau of Meteorology issuing a “poor” air quality alert and a “severe” fire warning. Anyone with heart or lung problems is advised to say indoors tomorrow.
Strong winds are also expected in Sydney tomorrow, topping anywhere from 20-25 miles per hour. And the New South Wales Rural Fire Service has tweeted a map of the fire spread that’s expected during New Year’s Eve.
Fires surrounding Greater Sydney: This map displays the predicted fire spread for NYE. The map indicates the communities that are expected to come under threat from embers or fire fronts. Other areas surrounding the fire may still come under threat if conditions change #NSWRFS pic.twitter.com/cDDvL6S8dS
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 30, 2019
Smaller towns in the state like Parramatta, Liverpool and Campbelltown have had to cancel their own fireworks displays.
Things are looking dire in the rest of the country as well, with over 100,000 people advised to leave their homes in the suburbs of Melbourne today. The area of East Gippsland is the latest populated area to experience the terrifying fire and smoke.
My fam n I just ran for our lives through bush. Huge bushfire trapping the 5 of us in the holiday house we’re staying at. We don’t know what’s left but so grateful for the @NSWRFS 🙏 heading home to Sydney in shock. #tarbuckbay #NSWfires The #RFS are heroes!! pic.twitter.com/0ZudpxY7Ak
— TraceyCorbinMatchett (@traceycm74) December 30, 2019
Hobart, the coldest major city in Australia, saw the hottest December day in its history, hitting 105.4 degrees Fahrenheit (40.8 degrees Celsius), less than one degree Celsius of the city’s all time record of 41.6 C.
Across the country, at least 10 people have died, over 4 million hectares have burned, thousands of buildings have been destroyed and an estimated 500 million animals have been killed. And summer is just getting started.
For some people, climate change seems like a futuristic nightmare. But for Australians, there’s nothing futuristic about it. The nightmare is now.
Featured photo: Getty Images