Australia firefighters' dirty, difficult battle

02:25, Jan 09 2013
Tasmaniabush fire
A fire at Tasmania's Forcett, 30km from Hobart, sends smoke over Park Beach.
Tasmaniabush fire
Fire burning near Dodges Ferry, a small town in south eastern Tasmania.
Tasmaniabush fire
The settlement of Dunalley, about 40 kilometres east of Hobart, was one of the worst hit by the Tasmanian bush fires.
Tasmaniabush fire
Police Rescue Helicopter crewman Matthew Drumm looks out at the destruction.
Australia heatwave 2013
Exercise groups train at sunrise to beat the heat on Sydney's Bronte Beach as temperatures are expected to reach record highs.
Australia heatwave 2013
Water bombing at Oura, near Wagga Wagga. New South Wales faces its worst fire risk with temperatures predicted to hit the mid to high 40s.
Australia heatwave 2013
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons (C) at the State Operation Centre.
Australian heat
Kutchani, a female lion, eats a frozen milk iceblock at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.
Australian heatwave
Smoke rises from the Yarrabin bushfire burning out of control near Cooma, south of Canberra.
Australia heatwave
A bush fire burning near Cooma, south of Canberra.
Singed clothes hang from a clothesline in a backyard affected by a bushfire at Boomer Bay, about 40 kilometres east of Hobart.
Australia heatwave
Fire crossing Princes Highway at Deans Gap fire in Shoalhaven, southern NSW.
Australia heatwave
A deserted petrol station, close to a fire south west of Wandandian, NSW.
Australia heatwave
NSW Rural Fire Service crews tackle a deliberately lit bushfire near Bidwill in Sydney's west.
Australia heatwave
Carngham Station, in Victoria, was destroyed in the state's bushfires.
Australia heatwave
A fireman working on flames near Ballarat, Victoria.
Australia heatwave
NSW Rural Fire Service crews water-bombing fires at Bungendore.
Australia heatwave
'Mopping-up" spot fires at Sandhills in Bungendore, Australia.
Australia fires
An aerial photo of the fire threatening the Siding Springs Observatory.
Australia fires
The fire moves in on the observatory in Siding Springs, in rural NSW.
Australia fires
The Siding Spring Observatory the morning after the fire swept through.
Australia fires
Several buildings at the Siding Spring Observatory were damaged.
Australia bushfires
A fire danger sign on the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne gives a grim warning to locals.
NSW fire at Coonabarabran
Fire burns alongside the Newell Highway near Coonabarabran, about 350km northwest of Sydney.
Australia bush fires
A children's playground destroyed by the massive bushfire in rural New South Wales.
Australia bush fires
Robina and Felicity Otrupcek standing in front of Robina's home that was water-bombed and remained unscathed as fire burnt through the New South Wales property.
Australia bush fires
The changed landscape of Baradine Road at Coonabarabran, which was hit by one of New South Wales' worst bushfires in history.
victoria bush fires
Trying to keep cool at the Big Day Out in Sydney.
victoria bush fires
Crowds at Wanda Beach as temperatures begin to fall in Sydney.
victoria bush fires
Swimmers and sun bathers at Victoria Park Pool, in Sydney's Glebe.
victoria bush fires
Sydneysiders cool off in Botany Bay near Yarra Bay.
victoria bush fires
Frantic efforts to damp down properties as the fire approaches.
victoria bush fires
Firefighers battling a bushfire in Aberdare, New South Wales.
A fire burns in Ku-Ring-Gai National Park, north of Sydney.

Australian officials say the extreme fire danger has not passed for the country's southeast despite an easing in searing temperatures.

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It has been a tense night for firefighters as they worked to control hundreds of fires across New South Wales (NSW), ACT and Victoria.

A cool change early this morning saw the mercury plunge 10 degrees over two hours in Sydney, bringing to a close one of the worst ever fire days with only a handful of homes have been destroyed and no lives lost.

But the reprieve would be short-lived, with authorities tracking a dangerous band of hot air moving north toward Queensland and temperatures expected to climb again by the end of the week.

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the southerly was bringing relief from the heat and humidity, but was not helping fire crews.


Fresh fires were still breaking out, including one in the Blue Mountains in Lithgow, where flames were visible from the Great Western Highway.

''We've got reports of new fires occurring in places like Lithgow in the central ranges, west of Sydney,'' Fitzsimmons said.

''And of course we've got that very hot air moving northward across much of the northeastern areas of NSW today, which is why we have got statewide total fire bans in place today.''

He said they couldn't afford to relax.

The RFS said 1700 firefighters were battling 140 fires across NSW alone - 30 of them were out of control.

Hundreds of fires closed in on tinder-dry rural settlements and picturesque coastal holiday spots throughout New South Wales yesterday.

The high temperatures and furnace-like winds, often topping100kmh, combined to produce a perfect storm for Australia's bushfire-prone eastern seaboard, escalating fears that NSW would be subjected to the devastation experienced in Tasmania last week.

While NSW and Tasmania were the focal points of an anxious 24 hours, resources were also stretched in Victoria and the ACT, while firefighters also had blazes to put out near Alice Springs and in southern Queensland.

Homes near Ballarat in Victoria were destroyed and seven people treated in hospital after an out-of-control grass fire swept through Snake Valley.

Authorities rushed to contain the blaze - one of at least 13 fires burning in the state on Tuesday night - which grew quickly to about 1100 hectares.

Four properties were believed to have been lost to fire. Historical homestead Carngham Station, a grandiose two-storey brick villa set on more than 2000 hectares with a 30-hectare lake was destroyed.

A cool change was expected to bring relief for Tasmania, where fires were still burning and more than 100 homes were razed to the ground.

The state has continued to provide the most harrowing images - and survival stories - associated with "catastrophic" bushfire conditions.

As a group of 13 New Zealand volunteer fire fighters headed for the Tasmanian capital Hobart to relieve exhausted locals, some of Boomer Bay's 262 residents returned to the tiny coastal settlement and sift through the remnants of their fire-ravaged properties.

Situated north of Dunalley on the Tasman peninsula, half of the hamlet's buildings were destroyed while the carcasses of burnt-out vehicles dotted along the waterfront to resemble a war zone.

In scenes mirroring the panic that spread through Dunalley at the weekend, 50 Boomer Bay residents took refuge on a 15-metre long wooden jetty as flames licked the beach.

- Fairfax and agencies