Australia warns of "catastrophic" fires

Featured Oceania - January 9th, 2013
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Authorities warned of “catastrophic” fires after wildfires, fanned by intense heat and high winds, raged across Australia’s most populous state on Tuesday night.

A total fire ban was still in place as firefighters struggled to put out more than 140 fires burning across New South Wales, around 40 of them uncontained, while hundreds of residents were forced to evacuate their homes, state Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters in Sydney.

“You don’t get conditions worse than this, we are at the catastrophic level,” Fitzsimmons said, adding that thousands of firefighters were on standby across New South Wales.

“We’ve still got many hours of very difficult conditions being faced for NSW. That’s tonight alone, let alone looking into tomorrow,” he told ABC.

At least three homes were reportedly razed in the bushfires, one at Jugiong near the Australian Capital Territory border and two in central Victoria, local media said.

New South Wales saw one of the highest-risk fire since the new year, with temperatures reaching 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) and expected to continue climbing in next few days, in what weather bureau officials say is a “significant climatic event”, AFP reports.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned the nation to keep safe. “This is a very dangerous day,” Gillard said. “It is very important that people keep themselves safe, that they listen to local authorities and local warnings.”