57 fires scorch eastern Australia; state of emergency declared
Jessica King and Holly Yan, CNN
10:13 AM, Oct 20, 2013
11:14 AM, Oct 20, 2013
(CNN) -- Hundreds of homes have been destroyed or damaged by dozens of major bush fires raging in eastern Australia, fire officials said.
And they fear that it could get much worse.
The 57 unrelenting blazes have scorched more than 109,000 hectares (269,000 acres), said Matt Sun, spokesman for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. Fourteen of the fires are out of control, officials said.
Among those still facing severe threats are Springwood and Winmalee in the Blue Mountains region, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Sydney.
More than 300 firefighters are battling the Linksview Road fire in Springwood, where conditions are predicted to deteriorate over the next few days, the state fire service said.
Under such conditions, fires can be difficult to control, the service said. Embers may be blown ahead, creating spot fires.
The Springwood fire destroyed at least 193 homes and damaged another 109, officials said. In the Mount Victoria fire, seven homes have been destroyed and one damaged. Both fires were sparked by power lines that had been buffeted by strong winds.
Causes of the other fires are unclear, preliminary investigations showed. Officials are looking into whether a blaze near Lithgow was caused by a military training exercise.
Winmalee also felt the scorching impact.
"The house survived; the shed didn't. This all is just a pile of sticks in the air with a roof on it," resident Joe Mercieca told CNN affiliate Seven Network, pointing to the devastated aftermath.
"At the end of the day, we hope we have buildings standing. But if we don't have buildings standing, we don't want bodies in them," cautioned New South Wales Police Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke, who commands the major events and incidents group.
A total fire ban is in place for the Greater Sydney region until further notice, officials said, meaning no fire may be lit in the open, and all fire permits are suspended.
"These conditions that we are looking at are a whole new ballgame and in a league of their own," said the commissioner of rural fire services, Shane Fitzsimmons. "The predictive charts indicate that there will be a significant impact on populated areas should all these forecasts materialize."
The situation is so bad that New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell declared a state of emergency for the state, which includes Sydney. The declaration gives firefighters special authority as conditions worsen.
"These powers include the right to order the public to leave or to enter an area, the right to shore up or demolish a building, and of course it also prevents people from disobeying an order given under these powers," O'Farrell said Sunday.
At least one death has been reported. A 63-year-old man died of a suspected heart attack Friday while defending his home against a blaze on the New South Wales Central Coast, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
Walter Lindner collapsed while working alongside his neighbor to save his heritage-listed homestead, according to ABC.
About 1,300 firefighters were tackling the blazes Sunday evening.
Forecasters are calling for hot, dry and windy days in the next few days, Seven Network reported.
CNN meteorologist Tom Sater said a front may bring some rain relief to some areas beginning Tuesday.