Canberra snuffing New Year's Eve fireworks as fire danger worsens

PERTH - New Year's Eve fireworks in Australia's capital city have been cancelled as the wildfire danger worsens in oppressive summer heat, and pressure was building on Monday (Dec 30) for Sydney's iconic celebrations to be similarly scrapped.

Temperatures on Tuesday were set to hit 38 deg C in the capital, Canberra, and 33 deg C in Sydney, Australia's largest city. Thick smoke that has shrouded the city's iconic landmarks in recent months was also expected on Tuesday.

"Hot air is coming out of the centre of Australia, it's particularly dry and then, unfortunately, conditions are expected to worsen in New South Wales as we head into Tuesday," Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

Wildfires have killed nine people and razed more than 1,000 homes in the past few months, with New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, bearing the brunt.

There were 97 fires burning across New South Wales on Monday with 43 of them not yet contained. Total fire bans have been declared in 10 areas, including Sydney.

The City of Sydney Council has approved Tuesday's fireworks show, although fire authorities warned it could be cancelled if catastrophic wildfire conditions are declared.

The popular celebrations are expected to attract a million people to Sydney Harbour's famous foreshore and generate A$130 million (S$122 million) for the New South Wales economy. An estimated one billion people worldwide watched last year's display on television.

Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday said the fireworks should go ahead to show the world Australia's resiliency.

New South Wales Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the spectacle should be called off.

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"The risk is too high and we must respect our exhausted volunteers," he wrote on social media.

In Australia's second-most populous state of Victoria, soaring temperatures and the fire danger was forcing thousands of residents and holidaymakers to evacuate. Six emergency warnings are in place for out-of-control wildfires. Melbourne, Victoria's capital, is set to reach 43 deg C on Monday.

In Canberra, fireworks were cancelled and event organisers said other activities, including live music performances, could also be cancelled.

"It is a sensible decision for us not to proceed with the fireworks," the capital territory's Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said.