Hundreds of extra firefighters are being deployed to the Blue Mountains
More than 3,000 firefighters in Australia are battling devastating bushfires raging across New South Wales as weather conditions worsen.
“This will be as bad as it gets,” Rural Fire Service chief Shane Fitzsimmons said, adding there was “real potential for more loss of homes and life”.
High temperatures, low humidity and strong winds of up to 100km/h (60mph) are forecast for Wednesday.
In total, 59 fires are burning across the state, 19 of which are uncontained.
Hundreds more firefighters have been deployed to the Blue Mountains to work alongside the 1,000 already there, making it one of the largest firefighting contingents ever assembled in the state’s history.
Residents have been urged to leave the area.
Hundreds of nursing home residents were evacuated late on Tuesday. All schools in the area are closed.
Hundreds of extra fire fighters are being deployed in NSW
The fires gutted cars and destroyed more than 200 properties
“We are all in this together and we are going to get through this day. If you haven’t prepared yourself, for those in the Blue Mountains, now is the time to leave,” NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said at a news conference on Wednesday morning.
“We hope, of course, today’s conditions and potential events do not occur. We’ve planned for the worst but we continue to hope for the best.”
Up to 5mm (0.2in) of rain fell across fire grounds on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.
“Whilst that is some welcome relief in terms of moderating the current fire behaviour, it has compromised considerably the ability to continue with the back-burning operations that were planned throughout the evening,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
Back-burning is controlled burning of key areas aimed at depriving a fire of fuel and prevent it travelling in a certain direction.
There are four “watch-and-act” alerts in place for the State Mine fire near Lithgow, the Mount Victoria fire, the Hall Road fire near Wollondilly and the Linksview Road fire near Springwood, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service.
Bushfires in Australia
Australia is often hit by bushfires during summer months from December to February. Causes can be lightning, arson, power-line arcing, dropped cigarettes or controlled burns that go wrong.
On 7 February 2009 a prolonged heat-wave and dry spell led to the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria. The fires became Australia’s worst natural disaster, killing 173 people and burning thousands of houses.
On 16 February 1983 almost 200 fires caused devastation across parts of Victoria and South Australia. Seventy-five people died in what became known as the Ash Wednesday fires.
In January 2013, parts of NSW and Tasmania were hit by fires as temperatures soared to record levels, with average national temperatures topping 40 degrees Celsius. One person died in Tasmania and several hundred buildings were destroyed.
The fires have been burning in the Blue mountains near Sydney since Thursday, with a state of emergency was declared at the weekend.
“There’s not been fires quite like this before – so big, so intense and so fast. We’re talking about a fire that at some points is five storeys high,” Mayor of the Blue Mountains Mark Greenhill told the BBC on Tuesday.
“[Wednesday] is going to be a horror day in terms of the weather and could be a horror day in terms of the fire,” he said.
On Tuesday fire crews deliberately joined two large fires – State Mine and Mount Victoria – in order to prevent them linking up with a third.
An 11-year-old boy appeared in court on Tuesday accused of setting fire to an abandoned mattress and lighting grassfire in Newcastle, north of Sydney, last week.
Another boy, 15, will face court next month over the same fire.
One man has died – possibly of a heart attack – while trying to protect his home. Hundreds of people have been left homeless by the bushfires.
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