Sun, Jan 01, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Aussie bushfires might get worse

WINDS PREDICTED Fire service workers said the situation is likely to deteriorate as more high temperatures and strong winds approach

AP , SYDNEY

Firefighters battled to contain wildfires across southeastern Australia yesterday amid concerns that high temperatures and strong winds predicted for this weekend could fan the blazes.

Authorities declared total fire bans across the states of New South Wales and South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, and in most of Victoria state from midnight on Friday until today. A total ban bars all controlled fires including barbecues, campfires and waste burning.

About 500 firefighters contained 20 blazes across New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, and were battling to control five more fires as temperatures were expected to exceed 40oC in some areas, the state's Rural Fire Service spokeswoman Rebel Talbert said.

"We're going to be focusing our resources today on making sure those fires are completely contained or out today in preparation for the bad weather that's coming tomorrow," Talbert said yesterday.

She said 1,000 firefighters were on standby in case of new fire outbreaks, but those numbers could be boosted ahead of expected severe conditions today.

In Victoria, firefighters contain three major fires but were struggling to quench burning at a coal face 200m long and 100m high at the Morwell coal mine, 130km southeast of the state capital, Melbourne, state Country Fire Authority spokeswoman Adele Buhagiar said.

About 50 firefighters helped by 40 power station workers have fought the mine blaze since it broke out mid-afternoon on Friday.

"That's proving difficult for us because of problems of gaining access, but crews have worked all through the night and it's not threatening to spread anywhere," Buhagiar said.

In South Australia, two fires started by lightning strikes on Thursday had scorched 23,300 hectares of scrub by yesterday on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, where nine people were killed in fires in January, the state's Country Fire Service spokeswoman Lisa Lalic said.

"They're pretty much contained but we're sending extra resources to keep them suppressed," Lalic said.

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