SYDNEY - Firefighters across Australia's east coast were bracing for "catastrophic" fire conditions as temperatures across the country's most populous state were set to soar.
Authorities in Australia's Queensland and New South Wales states declared a state of emergency Monday, urging residents in areas deemed at most risk of fires to evacuate.
Sydney has been designated at "catastrophic fire danger" for Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to hit a high of 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit), combining with powerful winds for potentially deadly conditions.
It is the first time the harbor city, which was shrouded in smoke on Tuesday morning, has been rated at that level since new fire danger ratings were introduced in 2009.
Home to more than 5 million people, Sydney is ringed by large areas of bush land, much of which remains tinder dry following little rain across the country's east coast in recent months.
Seeking to avoid deaths, firefighters have been given broad powers to control government resources, force evacuations, close roads and shut down utilities.
There were more than 50 fires raging across New South Wales, with half of them classed as uncontained.
About 3,000 firefighters were either deployed or on standby, along with thousands of other police and emergency service personnel, New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told a news conference.
"We have already got significant fires burning in the north coast of New South Wales. A number of those fires are exceeding 100,000 hectares alone," said Fitzsimmons.
"So far this season we have burned more than 1 million hectares as a result of those fires. Last year the entire fire season in New South Wales burned only 280,000 hectares."
Hundreds of schools will be closed. Public spaces have also been cleared to allow people to evacuate large pets such as horses. The state government advised anyone suffering respiratory conditions to stay indoors.