Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison has insisted Sydney’s famous New Year’s Eve fireworks will go ahead despite deadly wildfires ravaging the region, as a show of the nation’s “resilience”.
Firefighting authorities, however, have refused to rule out the possibility of cancelling the display at the last minute.
The iconic display has been cast into doubt into recent days, due both to risks of sparking fires in dry harbour-side nature reserves, and to sensitivities over the plight of those affected by the fires.
The state of New South Wales (NSW), of which Sydney is the capital, has been the worst hit by wildfires that have left nine people dead nationwide and razed more than 1,000 homes in the past several weeks.
The fire danger in Sydney and northern New South Wales is currently at put at “very high”.
“On New Year’s Eve, the world looks at Sydney. Every single year,” Morrison told reporters. “And they look at our vibrancy, they look at our passion, they look at our success.
“And so, in the midst of the challenges that we have to face, subject to the safety considerations, I can think of no better time to express to the world just how optimistic and positive we are as a country.”
Despite the PM’s insistence, NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has refused to rule out calling off the fireworks at the last minute.
“If I determine it to be too risky, that doesn’t concern me,” Fitzsimmons told a press conference.
“The pyrotechnics organisations and local authorities are used to working with us around exemptions in the summer period, whether it is Christmas, New Year or some other event.
“They know the arrangements, the procedures, and we will work through to make sure that risk is appropriately addressed and, where necessary, we won’t allow them to go ahead.”
Morrison also announced financial support for some volunteer firefighters in NSW.
Authorities meanwhile are braced for conditions to worsen in the next few days, with extremely high temperatures.
Sydney’s western suburbs are set to hit 41C (105.8F) on Sunday, before temperatures rise still further later in the week.