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Australia Struggles to Contain 2 Massive Fires Around Sydney

Blazes: Authorities warn that more hot weather is expected, adding to the threat.

January 04, 2002|From Reuters

SYDNEY, Australia — Weary Australian firefighters faced a "scary" day today as two massive bush fires raged around Sydney, and forecasters predicted more of the searing heat that sparked scores of fires Dec. 25.

About 10,000 firefighters are battling more than 100 blazes across New South Wales state, many set by arsonists, on fronts totaling 1,250 miles. The fires have destroyed 160 homes, causing an estimated $36 million in damage.

Fire official John Winter told Australian television that the two giant fires licking the perimeter of Sydney--one burning along the Blue Mountains west of the city and another on its south coast--posed the greatest threats.

"It's certainly going to be scary as the fire works its way up" the mountains, Winter said.

People in the small south coast resort town of Bendalong spent Thursday night on the beach as firefighters battled a huge blaze that a day earlier swept through another town to the north.

This morning, Bendalong was covered by a blanket of smoke. The town's only road remained cut off as firefighters waited to see which way the blaze would move once winds picked up.

Scattered along the beach were mattresses, chairs, tables and a baby's bed where people had spent the night.

Firefighters warned that milder weather would not bring any relief.

"The moderate conditions will play havoc with fire strategy because the fires are so erratic now," Winter said.

To make matters worse, more hot weather was on its way. "It's starting to get serious again from Sunday and into Monday," said Kevin O'Loughlin, a New South Wales weather bureau official.

There have been no deaths from the fires. Police have arrested 21 arson suspects, one as young as 9.

Residents in Sydney's Blue Mountains spent a sleepless Thursday night as 600 exhausted firefighters battled to save homes from the massive fire.

Stretching 37 miles from the mountains to the coast, the fire has burned out of control in the Burragorang valley at the foot of the mountains since Christmas Day.

Aided by a helicopter dropping nearly 2,000 gallons of water at a time, firefighters worked through the night forcing back flames street by street around the small mountain town of Woodford.

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