Firefighters Battle Australia Blazes as Weather to Worsen

Emergency crews in Australia’s most-populous state are battling to contain wildfires raging through bushland west of Sydney before weather conditions worsen.

Firefighters bulldozed containment lines through the Blue Mountains region and used helicopters to help backburn tracts of forest, New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters today.

More than 2,000 emergency personnel are tackling about 60 blazes across the state, including 13 that are uncontained, Fitzsimmons said. Authorities urged residents of some townships in the Blue Mountains, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Sydney, to leave their homes or face being isolated without power for several days if the fire front reaches them.

All schools in the region will be closed tomorrow, with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting temperatures will rise and winds will reach 55 kilometers per hour.

State Premier Barry O’Farrell declared an emergency at the weekend, giving police and firefighters the power to forcibly evacuate people, tear down threatened buildings and cut off power and gas supplies.

More than 200 homes have been destroyed by the blazes, while the Insurance Council of Australia says claims so far total A$93 million ($90 million). A 63-year-old man who died from a heart attack while protecting his home from a fire on the Central Coast, about 110 kilometers north of Sydney, is the only recorded fatality, according to police.

Crews joined two neighboring fires in the Blue Mountains to burn off fuel and prevent them merging with a third blaze when the weather worsens tomorrow, Fitzsimmons said.

The nation’s bushfire season has started early after the warmest September on record.

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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