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Australian wildfires force thousands to flee – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Australian wildfires force thousands to flee – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English. (source)

Thousands of Australians were told to leave their homes as dry winds created the conditions for a firestorm in mountainous bushland outside Sydney, where firefighters have battled for days to bring dozens of wildfires under control.

More than 200 homes have been destroyed in New South Wales state since last Thursday, when bushfires tore through scattered communities to Sydney’s south and west, razing entire streets.

One man died after suffering a heart attack trying to protect his home.

Wednesday’s fire conditions were shaping up to be the worst so far in the state’s bushfire crisis, said Shane Fitzsimmons, the commissioner of the rural fire service.

“If you don’t have a plan, let me give you one,” said Michael Gallacher, the state’s emergency minister. “Get into the car, drive down to the city metropolitan area and let the firefighters do what they can do to protect the community, should this turn for the worse.”

Temperatures in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney are expected to reach up to 30C, while in Sydney itself they could hit 35C. Hot, dry winds gusting up to 100km/h are also expected, posing the greatest challenge to firefighters.

“This is the day where we’ve been receiving forecasts of the worst of weather for this week and that forecast is still staying with those predictions,” Fitzsimmons told reporters, warning of extreme fire conditions.

Al Jazeera’s Jonathan Gravenor, reporting from Katoomba’s Rural Fire Service, in the Blue Mountains, said there were more than 3,500 firefighters still battling fires in the region.

There were still 60 fires burning across the state on Wednesday, with 18 out of control, our correspondent said.

Authorities ordered schools in the Blue Mountains to be closed, evacuated nursing homes and advised people living in the area to leave before conditions deteriorated.

The Blue Mountains, whose foothills extend down to western Sydney suburbs such as Penrith, are populated with a mix of farmers, small business owners and white-collar commuters who make the trip into the city every day.

Known for their spectacular escarpments, eucalyptus forests and scattered small communities, they are a popular tourist spot for Sydney residents on weekends.

 

Australia bushfires destroy scores of homes – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Australia bushfires destroy scores of homes – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English. (source)

Firefighters in Australia are continuing to fight some of the worst bushfires to hit the country in a decade, preparing for worsening conditions.

In the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, one of the worst-hit regions in fire-ravaged New South Wales state, 300 homes have been either destroyed or damaged by the fire storm that peaked on Thursday, the Rural Fire Service announced on Saturday.

The damage toll is more than double the last count announced on Friday and will continue to rise as assessment teams and police move deeper into the destruction zone in search of survivors and victims.

Homes have been reported destroyed in other regions, but numbers are not yet available.

A 63-year-old man died of a heart attack on Thursday while protecting his home from fire at Lake Munmorah, north of Sydney. At least fiveĀ others – including three fire fighters – have been treated in hospitals for burns and smoke inhalation, officials said.

Arson investigations

Arson investigators are examining the origins of several of more than 100 fires that have threatened towns surrounding Sydney in recent days.

The Australian military also saidĀ it was investigating whether a major blaze was linked to an explosives training exercise.

The bushfires have been extraordinarily intense and extraordinarily early in an annual fire season which peaks during the forthcoming southern hemisphere summer which begins in December.

This year’s unusually dry winter and hotter-than-average spring have led to perfect fire conditions.

About 1,500 fire fighters have been back burning to contain blazes since winds and temperatures became milder on Friday. Several roads in fire-affected areas north, west and south of Sydney have been closed.

On Saturday, 83 fires were burning across the state including 19 uncontained blazes.

Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers described Saturday’s conditions as a “pause” before higher temperatures and increasing winds were forecast for Sunday.

“It’s just calmed down a little bit and obviously we’re bracing ourselves for these worsening conditions,” Rogers told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

“What we have is a time for the crews to anticipate the weather coming ahead and try and get as much containment as possible and prevent that fire threatening major population centres when we get worse weather,” he said.

In February 2009, bushfires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria state.

 

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