Crisis talks to cancel Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks

 

New Year's Eve fireworks around the state have been cancelled, with an 11th-hour call to be made on the fate of Sydney Harbour's $6.5 million pyrotechnic shows because of the horrendous fire conditions.

High-level meetings involving the ­Department of Premier and Cabinet, City of Sydney Council, Rural Fire Service and NSW Police were held yesterday to ­discuss how the event will be impacted, with Tuesday shaping up to be a severe fire ­danger day.

The briefings will continue right up until the main event on Tuesday, when temperatures are forecast to soar to 35C ­ in the city and 45C in the western suburbs, and gusty northerly winds are expected to shift to southerly late in the day.

If the fire conditions are ranked as catastrophic it is likely the $6.5 million harbour fireworks - and others in the metro area - will be cancelled.

 

An email obtained by The Sunday Telegraph claims the decision to cancel in "catastrophic conditions" was made at a meeting of local councils, government and the RFS just before Christmas.

The email, dated December 27, was from Northern Beaches Council.

"The decision was that the City of Sydney fireworks will go ahead unless there are catastrophic weather conditions," the internal email to councillors, signed by northern beaches council executive manager of community engagement Kath McKenzie.

"In the situation where catastrophic conditions are declared, Council's fireworks and all others will be cancelled.

"Staff are currently planning for the emergency shut down of events if weather conditions dictate it."

Bushfires are expected to flare up again as temperatures soar across NSW. Picture: Jeremy Piper
Bushfires are expected to flare up again as temperatures soar across NSW. Picture: Jeremy Piper

It is highly likely a total fire ban will be in place for at least some parts of NSW, ­including the Sydney metropolitan area, on Tuesday, with fears the forecast wind change will wreak havoc. Fireworks are included in a schedule of standard exemptions for total fire bans but the schedule comes at the discretion of the RFS.

Even if fireworks are ­included in the total fire ban, individual operators can then apply directly to RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons for a special exemption.

On December 21, when the fire danger was catastrophic, fireworks were banned.

A total fire ban won't be imposed until tomorrow, ­delaying a call on any changes to the fireworks program until the last minute.

However, City of Sydney is adamant the fireworks, which generate about $130 million, "are going ahead as planned".

"If a total fire ban is ­declared, we will continue to ­liaise with NSW government agencies and the NSW Rural Fire Service to determine the safest way to proceed with the event," a spokesman said.

City of Sydney council expects the fireworks will go ahead “as planned”. Picture: AAP/Brendan Esposito
City of Sydney council expects the fireworks will go ahead “as planned”. Picture: AAP/Brendan Esposito

"Cancelling the event would seriously hurt Sydney businesses. It would also ruin plans for tens of thousands of people from across the country and overseas."

The Sunday Telegraph ­understands fire trucks will be stationed at headlands and bushland vantage points around the harbour throughout the day.

Around Sydney, other councils are waiting on advice from the RFS. Parramatta Deputy Lord Mayor Michelle Garrard said council would apply for an exemption for its 9pm fireworks display if there was a total fire ban.

Penrith Panthers has been holding 9pm and midnight fireworks for at least 20 years but duty manager Matt Blattman said "it's possible that they will be cancelled". Some regional communities have already cancelled fireworks, including Armidale, Huskisson, Shellharbour, Shoalhaven, Port Macquarie, Berry and Tweed Heads.

Many organisations are ­instead donating the money to bushfire and drought charities.

Northern Beaches Council oversees fireworks at Bayview, Manly and Dee Why Beach, while Wollongong fireworks are still on, pending advice from the RFS.