Wildfires in southeastern Australia have continued to ravage communities. Flames have destroyed at least 100 homes outside Sydney. Prime Minister Tony Abbott is due to visit the affected areas later on Friday.
Firefighters said scores of homes were feared destroyed on Friday in Australia's Blue Mountains region and other parts of New South Wales state (NSW).
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott was due to visit some of the worst-affected areas later Friday.
"Australia is a country that is prone to natural disaster but every time it strikes it hurts, and we grieve for those who are now hurting because of what has happened in New South Wales," Abbott said.
The blazes follow Australia's warmest 12 months on record. Its summer phase, between December and February, are Australia's typical wildfire season.
Late on Thursday, a cool weather front swept through the region, lowering temperatures from 34 degrees Celsius to around the mid-twenties Celsius.
However, the state's Rural Fire Services (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said that despite the cooler conditions the situation was still "very active, very dynamic, very dangerous.”
"We are going to... continue to save life and to protect as much property as possible, but at the same time slowly take advantage of the weather conditions that are more favorable than was otherwise presented yesterday," he said.
NSW state premier Barry O'Farrell said the number of homes lost would "be at least in the hundreds."
O'Farrell added that two firefighters have been hospitalized, but did not provide details of their injuries. On Thursday, a 63-year-old man died from a heart attack while defending his home north of Sydney.
In the state's metropolis Sydney, health authorities issued a respiratory alert. The Opera House and Bondi Beach were bathed in an amber hue and ash. In Newcastle, 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Sydney, the regional airport was closed on Thursday. Schools and workplaces were evacuated.
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.
hc/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP)