January 1, 2006

Cooler weather helps dampen Australian bushfires

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Cooler weather and light rain on Monday
helped Australian firefighters battling scores of bushfires
that destroyed 15 homes over the weekend amid soaring

At least 50 fires broke out in New South Wales, Australia's
most populous state, gutting three homes at two small seaside
communities north of Sydney and another five at Junee in the
state's west where fire killed livestock and burned out about
25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of farmland.

Temperatures hit 44 degrees Celsius (111 F) in some areas,
but a cool change late on Sunday brought relief to
firefighters, who were still working to contain several blazes,
particularly around Gosford, about 60 km (37 miles) north of

"Firefighters there will have several days of work ahead of
them," Rural Fire Service Commissioner Phil Koperberg told
Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Major roads leading north from Sydney were reopened on
Monday and a cloudy day was forecast with some showers.

Thousands of firefighters had been put on high alert before
the extreme weather conditions and the lighting of fires in the
open was banned across most of southeast Australia.

Fires also struck South Australia and Victoria states on
Saturday, with one blaze destroying seven homes in western
Victoria and threatening several townships before the weather