MOUNT VICTORIA: Firefighters in Australia battled hot, dry winds and soaring temperatures on Wednesday as new blazes began breaking out in a weeklong bushfire disaster that shows no signs of easing.
With the crisis in its seventh day, 71 fires were raging across an area with a perimeter of 1,600 kilometers in New South Wales state and 29 of them were uncontained.
Warnings were again issued for people to be extra-vigilant, although there were no reports of more property being lost.
“There are still fires flaring up, impacting on communities. There’s every prospect we’re going to see some more,” said NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.
The fire chief added that he will “not rest easy until we start seeing some really good further consolidation of control lines and bringing these fires more under control.”
But he added that their worst fears in the Blue Mountains region west of Sydney, a popular tourist area home to 75,000 people where three huge infernos have been burning for days, had eased.
While one of the blazes, in Springwood where more than 100 homes were lost last week, was upgraded to the highest “emergency” level with “burning embers being blown towards homes,” residents who fled the mountains were told it was safe to return.
“If you have been someone that has chosen to depart the Blue Mountains today, to be out of harm’s way, then it would be safe to head back home tonight because the risk has been averted,” he said.
Fire officials said their high-risk strategies of aggressive backburning, building containment lines and strategic planning had paid dividends.
“It is absolutely wonderful it did not run,” Fitzsimmons said of two massive blazes around the Lithgow and Mount Victoria areas that were deliberately merged into one on Tuesday in a desperate attempt to better manage it.
While averting a major disaster in the mountains, fires broke out elsewhere around the vast state. A blaze at Minmi near Newcastle north of Sydney, also deemed an “emergency,” closed the main freeway that links the two cities and sparked traffic chaos.
Another blaze near Lake Macquarie, to the northwest of Sydney, also burned aggressively with water-bombing aircraft attempting to bring it under control, although high winds hampered the effort.
So far more than 124,000 hectares of land has been burnt across the state and more than 200 homes destroyed. But only one person has died as residents heed advice either to flee or head to evacuation centers.
Temperatures hit the mid-30 degrees Celsius range on Wednesday. Coupled with low humidity and wind gusts of up to 100 kilometers per hour Fitzsimmons had called the conditions “as bad as it gets.”