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Australia crews battle to contain wildfires

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A fire-fighter lighting a back burn near Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains on Monday, as volunteer fire brigades race to tame an enormous blaze. — PHOTO: AFP
A fire-fighter lighting a back burn near Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains on Monday, as volunteer fire brigades race to tame an enormous blaze. — PHOTO: AFP

Fire-fighters were racing to tame an enormous blaze in southeastern Australia on Monday with officials warning it could merge with others to create a “mega-fire” if weather conditions worsen.

Crews have been battling fires that flared in high winds and searing heat across the state of New South Wales last week with more than 200 homes so far destroyed and many others damaged.

While dozens of blazes have been contained, 58 were still alight and 14 of them out of control, enveloping Sydney in a thick white smoke haze that prompted warnings for people to stay indoors and avoid exercising.

Officials fear intensifying heat and winds could push it into another blaze at nearby Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains and then move towards the populated areas of Katoomba and Leura. “I don’t think I’ve ever used the word mega-fire,” said an officer .

“But the reality is that the modelling indicates that there’s every likelihood that in the forecast weather conditions that these two fires, particularly up in the back end of the mountains, will merge at some point.”

Firefighters spent the night building containment lines to try and prevent this happening ahead of a predicted deterioration of weather conditions.

But the fire chief played down earlier suggestions that all communities in the Blue Mountains, where 76,000 people live, could be evacuated.

Instead authorities were taking “a very deliberate, a very considered, a very targeted approach to securing and protecting all the communities.”

Amid the worst fire disaster in the state for nearly 50 years, New South Wales declared a state of emergency on Sunday, which gives fire-fighters the power to forcibly evacuate people, with penalties for refusing.

With hundreds of people evacuated due to the encroaching flames, police revealed on Monday that they were dealing with reports of looting from victims, although the number of incidents was small. — AFP


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