World

Aussie bush fires expected to worsen

Deadly blazes have killed three people, with thousands forced to flee their homes

TAREE, AUSTRALIA: Firefighters in eastern Australia yesterday prepared for "bad, if not worse" conditions expected in the coming days after ferocious bush fires devastated communities.

Catastrophic fires have killed three people and razed more than 150 homes since Friday, but cooler weather overnight provided a welcome reprieve for firefighters and residents.

Authorities were assessing the damage yesterday, with more than 100 fires still burning across New South Wales and Queensland, including several blazes that were out of control.

Wider swathes of the states - including outer Sydney - are now bracing for "dangerous" fire conditions predicted for the coming days, as is Western Australia state.

Five people reported missing have been found, but the unpredictable nature of the disaster means officials have not ruled out the possibility that others could still be missing, NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan told AFP.

The mayor of the small town of Glen Innes, where two people died, said residents were traumatised and still coming to terms with their losses.

"The fire was as high as 20 foot (six metres) and raging with 80kmh winds," Ms Carol Sparks told ABC.

"It was absolutely horrific for the people... impacted (by) it."

In Old Bar, which was spared the worst when the wind changed direction, hectares of bush land had turned to charcoal and small pockets of flames continued to smoulder.

Mr Peter McKellar, 75, was clearing debris from his property as his neighbour's home sat in ruins.

"The firies (firefighters) saved ours," he said. "They are doing a wonderful job. They're angels."

The high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds that have been forecast from the middle of the week are predicted to fuel blazes that authorities have warned they will be unable to contain ahead of time.

"Under these conditions, these fires will spread quickly and will threaten homes and lives," the NSW Rural Fire Service said in a statement.

"These conditions will be as bad, if not worse, than those experienced on Friday as they will be across a much broader area including large population centres like Sydney."

EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE

NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said dozens of additional fire crews would be sent out today in an attempt to head off the potentially disastrous conditions.

With thousands of people forced to flee from their homes, Australia's government was offering immediate emergency assistance payments of up to A$1,000 (S$932) to those affected and extended financial support for anyone unable to work as a result.

Many residents are now returning to their scorched communities to assess the extent of the fire-inflicted damage, amid warnings it could take months to rebuild their lives. - AFP

WORLD