Australia crews brace for ‘mega-fire’

AFP-JIJI

Firefighters were battling an enormous blaze in southeastern Australia on Monday, with officials warning it could merge with another to create a “mega-fire” if weather conditions worsen.

Crews have been fighting fires that flared in high winds and searing heat across the state of New South Wales last week with more than 200 homes destroyed so far and many others damaged.

While dozens of blazes have been contained, 63 were still alight and 17 of them were out of control, enveloping Sydney in a thick white smoke haze that prompted warnings for people to stay indoors and avoid exercise.

The main concern Monday was near the town of Lithgow, west of Sydney, where a huge fire — with a perimeter of 300 km — has already burned through more than 42,000 hectares and was threatening the communities of Bilpin, Bell, Clarence and Dargan.

Officials fear intensifying heat and winds Tuesday and Wednesday could push it into another blaze at nearby Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains and then move toward the populated areas of Katoomba and Leura.

“I don’t think I’ve ever used the word mega-fire,” said New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. “But the reality is that the modeling indicates that there’s every likelihood that in the forecast weather conditions that these two fires, particularly up in the back end of the mountains, will merge at some point.”

Firefighters spent Sunday night and much of Monday building containment lines to try to prevent such an event, before a predicted worsening of weather conditions.