Winds and heat keep wildfire risk high in Australia


Mon, Oct 21, 2013 - Page 1

Firefighters battling some of the most destructive wildfires to ever strike Australia’s most populous state were focusing on a major blaze yesterday near the town of Lithgow that stretched along a 300km front.

Authorities warned that high temperatures and winds were likely to maintain heightened fire danger for days in New South Wales state.

The fires have killed one man, destroyed 208 homes and damaged another 122 since Thursday, the Rural Fire Service said.

Firefighters have taken advantage of milder conditions in recent days to reduce the number of fires threatening towns around Sydney from more than 100 on Thursday night to 61 yesterday, Rural Fire Service spokesman Matt Sun said.

However, fifteen of these fires continued to burn out of control, including the blaze near Lithgow, west of Sydney, which was given the highest danger ranking by the fire service.

Authorities expect that blaze will continue to burn for days and have advised several nearby communities to consider evacuating ahead of worsening weather conditions.

Sun said temperatures in the fire zone yesterday exceeded 25?C, with winds reaching 20kph and humidity dropping to 30 percent.

The Australian Department of Defense said it was investigating whether there was any link between the Lithgow fire, which started on Wednesday, and military exercises using explosives at a nearby training range on the same day.

Sun said the cause of the fire was also under investigation by fire authorities and would be made public when determined.

Arson investigators are examining the origins of several of the more than 100 fires surrounding Sydney.

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the weather was forecast to deteriorate further today and tomorrow.

“The worst of that weather will be probably culminating on Wednesday, but [there won’t be] much relief in the intervening period,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The wildfires have been extraordinarily intense and early in an annual fire season that peaks during the southern hemisphere summer, which begins in December.

Wildfires are common in Australia, although they do not tend to pop up in large numbers until the summer.

This year’s unusually dry winter and hotter than average spring have created perfect fire conditions.