Australia scorched by wildfires

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SYDNEY: Hundreds of homes are feared to have been destroyed by intense wildfires that tore across southeastern Australia in ferocious wind conditions on Thursday, darkening Sydney’s skies with smoke and ash, firefighters said.

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Five major blazes were burning across the state of New South Wales, fanned by high, erratic winds in unseasonably warm 34 degree Celsius (93 Fahrenheit) weather, as infernos in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney plunged the city into an eerie, ash-flecked darkness.

“We are unclear yet as to how many properties have been lost, but it’s expected by the time we finish counting, it will be at least in the hundreds,” said NSW state Premier Barry O’Farrell.

“It will take some days to see the end of these fires and I suspect if we get through that without the loss of life, we should thank God for miracles.”

NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said it had been a “very difficult and dangerous day” of “extraordinary fire behavior,” with blazes travelling vast distances because of the winds.

“This is as bad as it gets, you’re talking destructive, damaging, and people losing everything they own,” Fitzsimmons told reporters. “I think we will be counting properties in the dozens if not the hundreds.”

No fatalities have been reported so far, while just one firefighter has been injured, but Fitzsimmons said there were “many hours yet still to run” with a forecast thunderstorm and change of wind likely to complicate efforts.

The blaze was believed to have started when a power line came down in strong winds, according to media reports.

Sydney health authorities issued a respiratory alert after a blanket of smoke settled over the city.

AFP

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