Australia Wildfire Map Update: State of Emergency Declared in Country's Capital as Inferno 'May Become Uncontrollable'

A state of emergency was declared for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) on Friday as officials warn of the "worst bushfire threat" in the territory in nearly 20 years.

The large Orroral Valley bushfire—which has now grown to more than 45,000 acres—is raging to the south of the Australian capital city Canberra.

"The combination of extreme heat, wind and a dry landscape will place suburbs in Canberra's south at risk in the coming days," ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr told reporters at a press conference on Friday.

Currently the Orroral fire has now spread across an area equivalent to around 8 percent of the total surface area of the Australian Capital Territory, home to about 400,000 people.

"The predictive maps that the [ACT] Emergency Service Agency and the New South Wales Rural Fire Service have released today shows that the fire is expected to grow further today and tomorrow," Barr said.

"This fire may become very unpredictable, it may become uncontrollable. So given the best advice available to me, I have just made the decision to declare a territory wide state of emergency for the ACT," he said.

The state of emergency—which provides emergency services with extra powers and resources—is effective immediately and will be in place for as long as the city of Canberra is at risk.

Barr urged residents in the ACT to prepare themselves and their families for the "worst possible situation."

"There is now no higher priority for the entire ACT government at this time than this bushfire threat," he said.

Orroral Valley bushfire
A pyrocumulonimbus cloud is generated by the intense Orroral Valley bushfire burning to the south of Canberra on January 31, 2020. Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

The chief minister said the reason behind the declaration was to allow Canberrans—especially those in the southern district of Tuggeranong—to prepare for the weekend, noting that this would understandably cause "anxiety" for those who lived through the devastating bushfires which affected the territory in 2003.

These fires raged through parts of the Canberra's suburbs, killing four people, injuring another 500 and destroying or damaging around 470 homes, the BBC reported. The latest announcement marks the first time a state of emergency has been declared in the territory since these events.

"One of the many lessons from the 2003 Canberra bushfires was the need for early, clear and effective communication with the community on the risks ahead. Allowing people to plan and make decisions on whether they will stay or when they will go," Barr said.

Orroral Valley bushfire spread prediction map
A fire spread prediction map for the Orroral Valley bushfire, Friday, January 31, 2020. ACT Government

Fires have raged in the territory for several weeks, during which time officials have maintained a state of alert.

"Now we move to a new level," Barr said.

Local officials have already been making preparations as the Orroral fire grows. Endangered species and precious wildlife have been relocated from the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, three days of water supplies have been pumped into city reservoirs and evacuation centers have been set up.

"I want to reassure the community that I have full confidence in the ability of the Emergency Services Agency, ACT police, the Australian Defence Force and the ACT government to protect lives property and to support our community," Barr said.

"What we are now asking Canberrans to do is to support this work. We need people to remain alert, to be aware of the situation as it unfolds over the weekend, but most importantly to have a plan for their safety," he said.

These preparations are crucial given that more extreme weather conditions are forecast for the territory and surrounding areas in the coming days, the ACT government said.

The wildfires which have ravaged Australia since September last year have resulted in the deaths of at least 33 people, destroyed thousands of homes and burned more than 27 million acres of land.

Newsweek has contacted the ACT government for comment on the fires.