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Australia battles on against bushfires

Conditions have cooled in Australia, delivering some respite from extreme temperatures and fierce bushfires. But authorities have warned against complacency.

A drop in temperatures helped firefighters in Australia to grapple with fires raging across the country on Wednesday, though 30 blazes were still burning out of control, forcing more people to flee and laying waste to homes and livestock.

"We've got another very, very long day ahead today," said Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. "I can tell you the firefighters and those with fire in their area certainly realize the risk."

"You've worked a miracle keeping so many people and homes safe," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a message to the fire-fighting force.

Fitzsimmons said farming losses were already high.

"We've seen significant agricultural losses already been tallied up, thousands of hectares of pasture and crops, and stock in the thousands lost."

Watch video 00:25

Bushfires rage in Australia

Australians woke up to cooler conditions on Wednesday compared with the day before. Winds blew through New South Wales state and the temperature forecast for Sydney was a mere 25 degrees Celsius Wednesday, in comparison with 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 F) on Tuesday. In Melbourne the temperature had also dropped to 20 degrees Celsius.

But authorities warned that the drop in temperatures would only provide the briefest of respites as warmer weather is expected to make an unwelcome return later in the week.

And the worst hit areas of Australia were still in turmoil Wednesday. Over 2,000 firefighters were battling more than 140 fires across New South Wales. Four homes were also razed and six people were injured in Victoria State.

While it was initially believed as many as 100 people could be missing on the southern island of Tasmania after wildfires razed more than 150 homes over the weekend, police on Wednesday tempered concerns.

"We know there have been no significant injuries, which is amazing, and we are encouraged that we haven't found any human remains at this stage," said Tasmania's acting police commissioner Scott Tilyard.

Some 30 bushwalkers had to be airlifted from mountainous forest in the state Wednesday as fires forced the closure of tracks in the remote Tasmania Wilderness world heritage area.

sej/ipj (dpa, AFP)

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