December 31, 2005

Bushfire alert in Australia as temperatures soar

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Firefighters throughout southeastern
Australia were on high alert on Saturday, battling a series of
minor blazes amid soaring temperatures and high winds that
threatened potentially dangerous bushfires.

Two fires, in rural Victoria and South Australia states,
posed a danger to local communities, authorities said, while
other small blazes in Victoria and Australia's most populous
state, New South Wales, were mainly under control.

Gusting hot winds took the temperature to more than 42
degrees Celsius (108 F) by late afternoon in Melbourne, and
temperatures above 43 degrees and hot winds were forecast for
much of New South Wales on Sunday.

"We'll see extreme weather conditions all day tomorrow,"
said New South Wales Rural Fire Service spokesperson Rebel
Talbert. "If we do get bushfires in these conditions it makes
it extremely difficult for us to control them."

Thousands of firefighters were on standby around the
country, while about 1,200 firefighters were working on more
than 25 fires in New South Wales alone.

A ban on lighting fires in the open is in place across New
South Wales and much of Victoria and South Australia until
midnight on Sunday.

In January 2004, Australia's deadliest bushfires in 22
years killed nine people and injured dozens in South Australia.
The blazes were the worst since the Ash Wednesday bushfires
claimed 75 lives in South Australia and Victoria in 1983.

In 2003, bushfires destroyed a slice of Australia nearly
three times the size of Britain, fueled by one of the worst
droughts in a century. Four people were killed and 530 homes
destroyed when fire swept through the capital, Canberra, that

In 2002 and 1994, devastating bushfires destroyed scores of
homes in Australia's biggest city, Sydney.