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Australia fire fighters merge fires before worse weather hits

Australian fire fighters have merged two massive blazes in an attempt to contain the destruction. The strategy comes as weather forecasts for Wednesday predict even hotter temperatures and stronger winds.

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Australia tries to contain fires

Light rain on Tuesday gave thousands of fire fighters a window of opportunity to merge two massive fires, the latest strategy to contain the country's worst bushfires in decades. The move came ahead of a weather forecast for Wednesday, which the Rural Fire Service described as "about as bad it gets," with temperatures expected to reach the high 30s (roughly 100F) and winds of up to 100 kph (62 mph).

Fire fighters on Tuesday deliberately merged two major fires in a bid to manage the infernos ahead of worsening weather conditions.

NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the strategy was working. "We are seeing positive results of these very deliberate, very targeted, very decisive strategies being deployed particularly in relation to backburning operations," he commented.

Fighworked had desperately worked through the night with the help of 84 fire-bombing aircraft in order to try and contain a series of massive wildfires burningin mountains west of Sydney.

By merging the edges of the fires near Lithgow and Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains the blazes are designed to destroy the land in a managed way. The fires are deprived of the fuel they need in order to merge uncontrolled.

However, Fitzsimmons warned of forecasts for powerful winds and high temperatures that could hamper the operations. “We expect to see those winds strengthen up to 60 (37 miles) to 90 kilometers per hour, which is what we're trying to prepare for and brace for," he said.

Fire fighters have been battling wildfires across the state of New South Wales since they flared in high winds and intense heat last week. The fires have destroyed more than 100,000 hectares (258,000 acres) of land and razed some 200 homes in the most serious fire disaster in the state in almost 50 years.

On Thursday, a blaze claimed the life of a 63-year-old man who died of a suspected heart attack while attempting to defend his home from the flames.

On Sunday New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell declared a state of emergency, announcing that authorities were "planning for the worst but hoping for the best."

Wildfires are common in Australia in summer, which commences in December in the southern hemisphere, but this year has seen the fire season start unseasonably early owing to an unusually dry and warm winter and record spring temperatures.

In February 2009, fires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in the eastern state of Victoria.

hc/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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