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S.E. Australia ablaze with brush fires

Australia fire
Strong winds hinder firefighters in New South Wales   
November 28, 1997
Web posted at: 1:11 p.m. EST (1811 GMT)

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Strong winds hampered efforts to contain dozens of brush fires Friday, and officials warned that a hot, dry weekend could make the situation in New South Wales a repeat of 1994, when deadly fires devastated large areas of Australia's most populous state.

Bushfires still burning in Australia
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The neighboring states of Victoria and South Australia were also badly hit with fires.

The fires were no immediate threat to property, and there were no reports of injuries, a spokesman for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said.

"Most of these fires have been started by lightning strikes, so most of them are remote and the prompt response of fire crews has also helped," spokesman Gilly Paxton said.

Hot, dry conditions make it hard to contain brush fires in New South Wales Friday   

Temperatures in the region have reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The brush fires were being fanned by winds gusting up to 100 kilometers per hour (60 mph).

Fires in the Blue Mountains, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Sydney, and Hunter Valley, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) to the northwest were being monitored closely, with aircraft dropping water bombs in a bid to prevent property from being threatened.

Subtropical Australia regularly suffers major brush fires in its southern spring and summer months -- even without the current El Nino weather pattern, which has delayed the arrival of autumn rains.

This year's fires are but a fraction of the 800 reported in 1994, when they reached Sydney's suburbs, destroying hundreds of homes and killing four people.

The 1983 "Ash Wednesday" fires killed 76 people and burned more than 2,400 houses in Victoria and South Australia.

Correspondent John Raedler and Reuters contributed to this report.


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