Firefighters in Australia battled hot, dry winds and soaring temperatures yesterday 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, 71 fires were raging across an area with a perimeter of 1,600km in New South Wales State (NSW), 29 of which 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 control.”
However, 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 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,” 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 them.
The huge Lithgow area fire has a perimeter of more than 300km and the fire service late yesterday said it was sparked by a military training exercise.