The ACT Government has cancelled tonight’s New Year’s Eve celebrations in Civic due to “unprecedented” weather and fire conditions.
Events ACT had already cancelled the fireworks display on advice from the ACT Emergency Services Agency that it could not grant an exemption to the Total Fire Ban declared until tomorrow morning.
Events ACT Executive Branch Manager Jo Verden said on Monday that she would be monitoring the conditions and the free party in Civic Square would be cancelled if they deteriorated.
North-westerly winds have been gusting up to 70 km/h today and a thunderstorm is forecast for the evening.
The government said in a statement that the cancellation was forced by unprecedented extreme and highly unpredictable weather conditions, including dust, high wind, thunderstorms and a predicted heavy smoke haze coming into the city later this evening.
The decision was based on advice from relevant officials and agencies, including the ACT Emergency Services Agency, about potential significant risks to staff, contractors and families attending the event.
The celebrations were due to start from 6.30 pm in Civic Square with a free concert from The Beanies, MAXO, Rhythm & Girl, DJ Steve Komnacki, The Cherry Pickers, The Baker Boys and Asta.
Ms Verden said the safety and comfort of the public, contractors, performers and staff was paramount.
“Today’s dust and high winds on top of extreme heat, predicted thunderstorms and a heavy smoke haze from the South Coast fires, has led to us making this call,” she said.
“New Year’s Eve should be a night of celebration and fun. With the current conditions, our event would be far from that for Canberrans.
“We don’t want to put people at risk – either Canberrans attending the event or those working at the event – and the combination of dust, heat, wind, smoke and storm is a dangerous and unpleasant combination.”
Events ACT thanked the many contractors, performers, food vendors and agencies involved in the lead up to the event, and to the community for their understanding about the cancellation of this event.
“New Year’s Eve is a very special day on the calendar. We hope Canberrans have time to make other arrangements, in our local cafes, restaurants and bars, or at home with family and friends,” Ms Verden said.
ACT Emergency Services Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said the unusual weather patterns, along with the fires across Victoria and the New South Wales coast were unprecedented.
“This has created significant uncertainty and we are cautioning the community to be well prepared for these extreme weather conditions,” she said.
“Events ACT’s decision to cancel tonight’s celebrations has been made in consultation with the ACT Emergency Services Agency. While disappointing for many, the health and safety of our community is of the highest priority.”
Ms Whelan said heavy smoke was expected to hit the ACT around 8pm from the fires both in NSW and Victoria, and air quality would be very poor.
“We encourage people to plan ahead and for those more vulnerable in our community, to consider a more low key celebration, and to stay indoors where possible,” she said.
The ACT Government will donate $10,000 to the Australian Red Cross Bushfire Disaster Appeal, which is supporting Australians who have been impacted by these unprecedented bushfires.
Acting Chief Minister Yvette Berry said Canberrans were watching the terrible fires in the surrounding area closely.
“For many, the South Coast is a home away from home in the summer months. Our thoughts are with all those who are being impacted by these fires, including the committed Rural Fire Service volunteers working to save lives and property in our region,” she said.
Planned road closures directly around the Civic Square event site will no longer be force. Planned bus and light rail services will still be running on New Year’s Eve for revellers visiting the City.