Officials have warned it could take weeks to quell forest fires in southeastern Australia that have ravaged dozens of homes and thousands of hectares of woodland. Conditions are expected to worsen in the coming days.
Australia's Rural Fire Service (RFS) commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, warned Saturday that devastating wildfires in the southeastern state of New South Wales could take "weeks not days" to control.
Crews are battling to contain some of the most destructive wildfires ever to strike Australia's most populous state. Cooler conditions on Saturday offered a brief window to contain the fires, with temperatures and winds set to intensify as soon as Sunday.
The Rural Fire Service announced that about 80 fires were still burning across the state, around 20 of them out of control. The Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, is among the worst-hit areas. Around 193 homes in the region have been destroyed and another 109 damaged.
"This fire is by no means contained," New South Wales Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.
''It's got absolutely kilometers and kilometers of fire front.''
The fires took hold on Thursday following conditions described as the "worst in a decade," with strong winds, high temperatures and tinder-dry woodland creating ideal conditions for fires to spread.
A 63-year-old man died of a suspected heart attack on Thursday while attempting to defend his home from the flames.
No further casualties have been reported, although officials said they were preparing for the worst.
"Looking at the damage and destruction across these areas, we're expecting numbers to be in the hundreds when it comes to homes and buildings and infrastructure," Fitzsimmons said.
"And we simply can't ignore the reality that there may be people still within their homes that may not have gotten out," he added.
Australia's worst firestorm of recent years was in February 2009 in the southern state of Victoria. Thousands of homes were razed and 173 people killed.
ccp/tj (AFP, dpa, AP)