Mount Victoria - Firefighters in Australia battled hot,
dry winds and soaring temperatures on Wednesday as new blazes were whipped up
in a week-long bushfire emergency, but fears of a catastrophe eased.
With the crisis in its seventh day, some 71 fires were
raging across an area with a perimeter of 1 600km in New South Wales (NSW)
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," said NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons,
who 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
But he said 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 threatening houses and upgraded to the
highest "emergency" level, it was later downgraded with residents who
fled the mountains 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," Fitzsimmons
Fire officials said their high-risk strategies of
aggressive back-burning, building containment lines and strategic planning had
"It is absolutely wonderful it did not run,"
the fire chief 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.
The huge Lithgow area fire has a perimeter of more than
300km and late on Wednesday the fire service said it was sparked by a military
"An investigation has concluded the fire started as
a result of exploding ordnance on the range on Wednesday," a fire service
The defence department declined to respond.
While averting a major disaster in the mountains, fires
broke out elsewhere around the vast state. A blaze at near Newcastle north of
Sydney closed the main freeway that links the two cities and sparked traffic
Another inferno 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.
"It's a very fluid situation. It's a very dynamic
situation," said the fire chief ahead of cooler weather due on Thursday,
although winds will remain strong with no rain in sight.
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 centres.
Temperatures hit the mid-30°C range on Wednesday. Coupled
with low humidity and wind gusts of up to 100kph Fitzsimmons had called the
conditions "as bad as it gets".
Drizzle overnight "settled down firegrounds"
but it also hampered the mostly volunteer crews in their back-burning, a tactic
aimed at creating firebreaks to control the path of blazes.
This was a key focus of operations, but the light rain
meant many firefighters had to be withdrawn from forest trails due to fears
that their trucks could get bogged down.
While the worst appears to have passed, New South Wales
Premier Barry O'Farrell warned "we're not out of the woods yet".
He also said reports were filtering in of people trying
to cash in on other people's misery, with one landlord raising the rent for his
property in the Blue Mountains because so many other homes had been lost.
"The last week has been characterised by communities
and volunteers coming together to fight fires and support people and then you are
pulled up by these acts of what I describe as bastardry," he said.