Critics slam decision to go ahead with New Year's fireworks in Sydney during wildfire crisis

Despite fires, Sydney's NYE fireworks go on

Last Updated Dec 31, 2019 8:30 AM EST

Sydney, Australia is ringing in the new year with its world renowned fireworks, but as the country also faces an unprecedented wildfire crisis, many have questioned if these fireworks should be happening at all. The city had to get an exemption from the total fire ban to hold the fireworks show.

Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he supports the decision to go ahead with the fireworks, saying the event shows his country's resilience, reports CBS News correspondent Ian Lee.

Other supporters cited the money it generates for the economy, but thousands disagree. Amid the country's worst wildfire seasons ever, more than 275,000 people signed a petition to cancel the show, saying cities like Sydney that are already choking in smog from fires didn't need any more smoke in its air.

The petition also said the millions of dollars being spent on the fireworks should have gone toward the firefighters battling the flames and used to protect some of the country's devastated wildlife. The fires have destroyed more than 1,000 homes, as well as habitats for koalas and other animals.

"I think they should just ban them just for this year while this is all happening," one woman said. "Just leave it a year, and do it again next year." 

"I think the money should be going to the fires and the bush and also the people in the country towns. It's ridiculous," another woman said.

University of New Mexico associate professor Matthew Hurtreau, who studies climate and fires, said fireworks can be "an ignition source for wildfires." He praised parts of the U.S. that have canceled their own displays out of the fire risk, and while it's an unlikely risk in Sydney, he said defying Australia's total fire ban sends the wrong message.

"As the climate continues to change … we need to consider that maybe we need to forego things like firework displays especially while wildfire dangers is high, in part because that can give people the perception that it's OK to light off fireworks," he said.

There is no relief in sight for Australia, as the fires continue to rage. That has thousands living with the uncertainty of whether they'll have a home in the new year.