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Australian Fires Burn Residences

January 02, 2006|From Associated Press

SYDNEY, Australia — Walls of flame 100 feet high swept through parched eucalyptus forests Sunday as several fires raged out of control in southeastern Australia, injuring one man and destroying several homes and seven fire vehicles.

Dozens of people fled their homes north of Sydney, some using boats, as hundreds of firefighters battled flames lapping the edges of the city. Authorities closed the main freeway heading north from the city as a huge pall of gray smoke drifted across the area, but the road reopened today following overnight rains.

Dozens of fires burned across New South Wales state, fanned by hot dry winds from the Australian Outback as temperatures reached 111 degrees in Sydney, the city's hottest New Year's Day on record.

Several blazes north of the city merged into one "very fast-moving fire," consuming seven firefighters' vehicles, New South Wales state Rural Fire Service spokesman Cameron Wade told Australian radio.

Rebel Talbert, a fire service spokeswoman, said the fires appeared to be man-made, though whether "that's deliberate or accidental really remains to be seen." There had been no lightning strikes, she said.

One ambulance volunteer died of a heart attack Sunday night while helping evacuees in the town of Woy Woy, north of Sydney. Three houses were destroyed near Woy Woy and five others in Junee, about 210 miles southwest of Sydney.

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