Australian firefighters on alert for new flare-ups
December 4, 1997
Fighting fires in Lithgow
Web posted at: 9:22 a.m. EST (1422 GMT)
SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Australian firefighters battling
huge bush fires in the southeast of the country took
advantage Thursday of cooler temperatures to build more
firebreaks near some of the more than 100 fires still burning
out of control.
But up to 10,000 firefighters, including 6,000 already
fighting fires, were put on alert ahead of an expected return
to high temperatures and strong winds Friday or Saturday, New
South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Phil
"We'll move into tomorrow on a worst-case scenario rather
than a best-case scenario," Koperberg told a news conference.
'Vast fire ... huge efforts'
Officials said 16 aircraft were being used in the
firefighting effort, including eight firebombing aircraft and
three helicopters. Local media reported that the craft were
dropping water and fire retardants over burning areas in a
A L S O :
Detailed map of southeastern Australia
"This is a vast fire and a huge effort required to contain
it," said New South Wales Premier Bob Carr.
"It's that combination of high winds, high temperatures and
low humidity that we are all dreading in this region as
Saturday approaches," Carr told reporters after touring the
area. "So let's all pray for a break in the weather."
Firefighters are battling 173 bush fires across a wide area
of the state of New South Wales. About 60 of the fires are
out of control and some have been burning for eight days
after they were started by lightning strikes last week,
Lives, homes lost to blazes
A charred car is covered in bricks in Menai
Two volunteer firefighters were killed at Lithgow, 100 km (62
miles) northwest of Sydney, as more than 400 fires flared
across the state on Tuesday. Nearly 40 homes have been
destroyed and over 400,000 hectares (1 million acres) of land
have been laid waste by the fires.
In the Sydney suburb of Menai, where 11 homes were destroyed
and as many as 30 damaged, families picked through the rubble
of their destroyed houses Thursday, trying to clean up
charred home sites and looking for any personal items they
might be able to salvage.
"You've only got to take one look around here and you see how
bad it can be," one firefighter said as his team knocked over
Return to high temperatures expected
Firefighters knock down walls when flames reach the suburbs of Sydney
Cooler weather on Wednesday and Thursday helped firefighters
bring many blazes under control and build firebreaks in
anticipation of a return to prime bush fire conditions.
While temperatures in Sydney dipped to 23 degrees Celsius (73
degrees Fahrenheit) in Sydney and 31 C (88 F) in the
northwest on Thursday, meteorologists have forecast
temperatures of up to 40 C (104 F) and strong winds on Friday
Large fires were burning in inaccessible woodland in the
Hawkesbury River and Hunter Valley regions between 40 km and
150 km (25 to 95 miles) north of Sydney. Fires that reached
out of nearby bushland into Menai on Tuesday were also being
brought under control, the RFS said.
There were still several fires around Lithgow and
firefighters were attempting to stop them from joining up
with other fires in the Blue Mountains on the far western
outskirts of Sydney, RFS officials said.
The Insurance Council of Australia said on Wednesday that the
fires at Menai had caused up to $10 million (U.S. $6.7
million) in damage to homes in the area.
Australia is only four days into its southern hemisphere
summer and Koperberg has described conditions as more erratic
than those in January 1994, when fires encircled Sydney,
killing four people and destroying more than 100 homes.
Meteorologists said on Wednesday the El Niño weather pattern
would increase the risk of bush fires over the next few
months and would likely delay the start of the monsoon over
tropical northern Australia.
Reuters contributed to this report.