Sydney homes evacuated amid wildfires

2013-10-23 13:34
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Firefighters battle Australian blaze

Australian officials warned fires could merge with others to create a "mega-fire" if weather conditions worsen. See pictures of firefighters battling the blaze.

Sydney - Scores of Australians evacuated their homes in mountains west of Sydney on Wednesday as intensifying winds fanned wildfires and grounded the helicopters that were fighting them.

The winds were showering communities with embers, and all schools were closed in anticipation of worsening fire conditions in the Blue Mountains. The region lost more than 200 homes to blazes last week.

Springwood resident Rae Tebbutt said the atmosphere was tense in the village that was one of the worst-hit last week.

"Everyone is terrified," she said. "I've got three friends who have lost everything".

Authorities advised Blue Mountains residents who were not prepared to defend their homes from fire to leave for evacuation centres in Sydney, or Lithgow to the west. One centre in west suburban Sydney was housing 120 evacuees.

Seventy-one blazes were burning in New South Wales State around Sydney, including 29 burning out of control, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. About 3 000 fire-fighters, including 1 000 out-of-state reinforcements, were battling the blazes.

"Whatever unfolds throughout the afternoon today, there will still be a lot of fire edge that fire-fighters are going to have to continue to deal with through tomorrow, the coming days and coming weeks," Fitzsimmons told reporters.

A total of 95 fire-fighting aircraft were deployed, but winds up to 80kph forced the water-bombing helicopters to suspend operations over fires at Lithgow and the Blue Mountains during the day, Fire Service spokesperson Ben Shepherd said.

Temperatures in the fire zones rose above 32°C. The weather conditions were forecast to be the worst since last Thursday, when many of the homes that burned last week were lost. One death has been blamed on the fires.

Wildfires are common in Australia, though most frequently in the summer.

The early start this year "is indicative of the unseasonably hot, dry conditions that have been building now throughout winter into spring, and we need to remind ourselves that we still have a long way to go as we look down the coming months into summer," Fitzsimmons said.

Read more on:    australia  |  fires

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