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Published: Sunday, 10/20/2013

Wildfires ravage Australian state

Military exercise investigated as a possible cause of blaze

ASSOCIATED PRESS
A volunteer firefighter in New South Wales puts out hot spots in the town of Bell, Australia, on Sunday. The blazes are exacerbated by wind and high temperatures. A volunteer firefighter in New South Wales puts out hot spots in the town of Bell, Australia, on Sunday. The blazes are exacerbated by wind and high temperatures.
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CANBERRA, Australia — Firefighters battling some of the most destructive wildfires to ever strike Australia’s most populous state were focusing on a major blaze Sunday near the town of Lithgow that stretched along a 190-mile front.

Authorities said high temperatures and winds were likely to maintain heightened fire danger for days in New South Wales state.

The fires have killed one man, destroyed 208 homes, and damaged another 122 since Thursday, a Rural Fire Service spokesman said.

Firefighters have taken advantage of milder conditions in recent days to reduce the number of fires threatening towns around Sydney from more than 100 on Thursday night to 61 on Sunday, spokesman Matt Sun said.

Fifteen fires continued to burn out of control, including the blaze near Lithgow, west of Sydney, which was given the highest danger ranking by the fire service.

Authorities expect that blaze will continue to burn for days and have advised several nearby communities to consider evacuating ahead of worsening weather conditions.

The Defense Department, meanwhile, said it was investigating whether there was any link between the Lithgow fire, which started Wednesday, and military exercises using explosives at a nearby training range on the same day.

Arson investigators are examining the origins of several of more than 100 fires that have threatened towns surrounding Sydney in recent days.

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the weather was forecast to deteriorate further today and Tuesday.

“The worst of that weather will be probably culminating on Wednesday, but [there will not be] much relief in the intervening period,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The wildfires have been extraordinarily intense and early in an annual fire season that peaks during the southern hemisphere summer, which begins in December.

In February, 2009, wildfires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria state.



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