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Health alert issued as wildfire smoke blankets Sydney

The New South Wales (NSW) State Department of Environment has triggered a health alert on Thursday, as Sydneysiders woke up to find thick wildfire smoke blanketing the harbor city.

"If it's smokey and you have a chronic respiratory or heart condition, it's important to avoid all outdoor physical activities as much as you can," the Deputy Director of NSW Environmental Health Watch Dr Richard Broome warned on social media.

Making Sydney's Opera House and harbor Bridge barely visible this morning, the smoke is stemming from wildfires 400 km north near the township of Port Macquarie, where 2,500 hectares of bushland has burned for several days.

"A high pressure system to the east that's sitting in the Tasman Sea, is creating an inversion over the coast line... and the north-easterly wind has been dragging that smoke under that inversion a very long distance into areas of Sydney and the South Coast," meteorologist Jordan Notara, from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, told Xinhua.

"So what we have at the moment is cooler air that is sitting underneath which is not allowing the smoke to be dispersed into the higher levels of the atmosphere."

While no deaths or injuries have been reported as a result of the massive blaze in the mid-north of NSW, it's estimated that around 350 koalas have been lost at the vital wildlife breeding ground.

Speaking with the Australian Associated Press, Port Macquarie Koala Hospital president Sue Ashton described the situation today as "a national tragedy."

"It's very confronting. We're actually arranging counselling for our rescuers, because you can imagine finding those sorts of remains is quite traumatic, particularly when you work so hard to keep them alive," she said.

With warm, dry conditions continuing across much of Australia's east coast, the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said there are currently over 1,000 personnel battling 65 bush and grass fires burning throughout the state.

"Firefighters and aircraft will be working today at many sites in NSW to strengthen containment lines and slow the spread of fire," the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) posted to Twitter.

It's hoped that Sunday's forecast of rain will bring some relief to their efforts.

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