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Abbott Extends Emergency Aid to Sydney as Wildfire Losses Mount

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said federal and state governments will provide emergency assistance to communities hit by wildfires in the Sydney region, warning threats remain even as local weather conditions ease.

Food, clothing and accommodation will be available to families and individuals, and concessional loans for small businesses and farmers, Abbott and New South Wales state Premier Barry O’Farrell said. The Rural Fire Service said 193 houses had been destroyed and another 109 damaged in the Springwood and Winmalee areas of the Blue Mountains, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Sydney.

“A very high level of threat still continues for many communities around NSW and emergency services and support agencies are working around the clock to contain these threats,” Abbott and O’Farrell said in a statement today. “While the extreme weather has eased, the threat for many communities is not yet over.”

Fire crews from around the country have been dispatched to NSW to fight 19 uncontained blazes among the more than 80 burning. The nation’s bushfire season has started early after the country’s warmest September on record, and while the haze that blanketed Sydney’s skyline two days ago has cleared, the smell of smoke is still in the air today.

Weather ’Pause’

Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said current conditions were a “pause” before higher temperatures and stronger winds forecast for tomorrow.

“It’s just calmed down a little bit and obviously we’re bracing ourselves for these worsening conditions,” Rogers told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. “What we have is a time for the crews to anticipate the weather coming ahead and try and get as much containment as possible and prevent that fire threatening major population centers when we get worse weather.”

A 63-year-old man died protecting his home from a fire at Lake Munmorah on the NSW Central Coast, about 110 kilometers north of Sydney, NSW police said in a statement on its website yesterday.

Police are investigating allegations that two girls aged 12 and 13 tried to light a fire on Sydney’s western fringe. Police said in a statement the girls had been questioned and released. An investigation is continuing.

Wildfires are a regular feature of Australia’s warmer months. In February 2009, bushfires across Victoria state killed 173 people and destroyed 150 homes in the worst blazes in Australian history.

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