Bushfire smoke hides Australia's 'Three Sisters', tourists photograph billboard

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Tourists visiting a world heritage site in mountains west of Sydney were forced to take photos of a billboard showing “The Three Sisters” rock formation on Friday as smoke from bushfires blanketed the attraction.

“The Three Sisters” in the Blue Mountains represent three sisters who, according to Aboriginal legend, were turned to stone.

“It’s unbelievable. We were really looking forward to seeing the view and I’ve always wanted to see the Blue Mountains. Such a shame that when we came...,” English tourist Lewis Casey told Reuters.

The Blue Mountains bushfires, which have been burning for weeks, have led to a sharp drop in tourist numbers which is hurting local businesses.

“We’re all affected by the lack of tourists,” said small business owner Lynne Curan in the Blue Mountains.

“I am doing about a third of what I would normally do at this time of year,” Curan added.

“And I think that’s the same for everyone. No matter whether it’s retail, hotel, AirB&B, whatever, we’re all way down. Everyone’s canceled, no one’s coming up here and yeah, everyone’s suffering.”

Deadly bushfires have destroyed more than 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres) in five states since September, dwarfing the terrain burned by fierce fires in California during 2019.

Australia’s environment minister estimated on Friday up to 30% of koalas may have died from bushfires on the New South Wales state’s mid-north coast.

Firefighters fighting more than 100 bushfires are bracing for more “extreme heatwave conditions” early next week.

Reporting by Jill Gralow; Writing by Swati Pandey; Editing by Michael Perry