Homes evacuated as wind fans wildfires near Sydney

October 23, 2013
A Rural Fire Service (RFS) firefighter tries to extinguish a fire approaching homes near the Blue Mountains suburb of Faulconbridge, located around 80 km (50 miles) west of Sydney October 24, 2013. A plane dousing wildfires in bushland south of Australia's biggest city, Sydney, crashed into a national park on Thursday, killing the pilot and sparking a new fire to add to 55 still burning across the state of New South Wales. The accident happened as more dry, windy conditions caused a flare-up in huge fires burning for a week in mountains to the west of Sydney, closing roads and entering a valley running down towards the metropolitan area. REUTERS/Rick Stevens (AUSTRALIA - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT)
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A Rural Fire Service firefighter tries to extinguish a fire approaching homes near the Blue Mountains suburb of Faulconbridge

SYDNEY (AP) — Winds that were fanning wildfires and showering embers on threatened communities eased late Wednesday, after scores of Australians evacuated their homes in mountains west of Sydney.

All schools had closed in the Blue Mountains in anticipation of bad fire conditions, and authorities advised residents who were not prepared to defend their homes to leave for evacuation centers. One center in west suburban Sydney was housing 120 evacuees.

Springwood resident Rae Tebbutt said the atmosphere was tense in the village that was one of the worst-hit last week, when the region lost more than 200 homes to blazes that also caused one death.

"Everyone is terrified," she said. "I've got three friends who have lost everything."

Seventy-one blazes were burning in New South Wales state around Sydney, including 29 burning out of control, Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

As the temperatures and winds dropped, the danger of fire spreading eased with no reports of injuries or property loss.

While many hours of firefighting are still to come, "the broader risk to a much larger, more widespread population has certainly eased," Fitzsimmons told reporters.

Temperatures in the fire zones rose above 32 Celsius (90 Fahrenheit). And winds blew up to 80 kph (50 mph), forcing water-bombing helicopters to suspend operations during the day, Fire Service spokesman Ben Shepherd said.

Wildfires are common in Australia, though most frequently in the summer.

The early start this year "is indicative of the unseasonably hot, dry conditions that have been building now throughout winter into spring, and we need to remind ourselves that we still have a long way to go as we look down the coming months into summer," Fitzsimmons said.