Australia merges wildfires

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LITHGOW: Firefighters on Tuesday deliberately merged two major blazes in southeastern Australia in a desperate attempt to manage the advancing infernos ahead of weather conditions that authorities warn will be “as bad as it gets.”

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Crews made up largely of volunteers worked tirelessly along trails in heavily forested areas west of Sydney to try to prevent the blazes becoming one out-of-control “mega-fire” that could race towards a third blaze nearby.

Thousands of firefighters have been battling infernos across 1,600 kilometers of New South Wales state since they flared in high winds and searing heat last week, with more than 200 homes destroyed so far and many others damaged.

Only one person has died but with Wednesday’s weather forecast worse than previously predicted, NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons warned: “There is a very real potential for more loss of homes and loss of life.”

He urged anyone who does not need to be in the Blue Mountains region, home to 75,000 residents, to leave, although no mass evacuations were planned.

“The forecast and scenario for tomorrow is about as bad as it gets,” said the fire chief. Temperatures in the mid-30s Celsius range, lower humidity and wind gusts of up to 100 kilometers per hour are predicted before more favorable conditions from Thursday.

In the state’s worst fire emergency in almost 50 years, dozens of blazes have been extinguished or contained but 57 are still alight and 17 of them deemed out of control.

AFP

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