A state of emergency has been called in the southeastern Australian state of New South Wales as bushfires continue to wreak havoc. Firefighters fear the blazes could reach the state capital Sydney.
Australian fire crews are bracing for the worst as dozens of bushfires raging across the state of New South Wales were forecast to intensify in the coming days.
Authorities have warned that high temperatures and wind are likely to maintain a high fire danger at least until Wednesday.
The Rural Fire Service(RFS) said the fires have killed one man and destroyed a total of 208 homes since Thursday. Worst-hit is the Blue Mountains region west of Sydney, where three separate blazes were still raging on Sunday.
Firefighters fear that several of the blazes may combine in a massive firefront that could reach Sydney's suburban outskirts.
An RFS spokesman said there was "a very real potential" that the fires could join into one massive conflagration, threatening the outer suburbs of the city of 4.4 million.
The fire service has ranked a blaze burning along a 300-kilometer (190-mile) front near the town of Lithgow as the most dangerous, and have advised some nearby communities to consider evacuating.
'Planning for the worst'
Declaring the state of emergency, New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell said authorities were "planning for the worst but hoping for the best."
"This is not an action taken lightly... but it's important the Rural Fire Service and other emergency services have the powers and the resources they need to combat this threat," O'Farrell said.
The order gives emergency personnel the authority to force evacuations and close electricity networks.
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.
tj/mz (AFP, dpa, AP)