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Australians leave homes as heat, winds escalate fire danger

AP

Thousands of people fled their homes and helicopters dropped supplies to towns at risk of nearby wildfires as hot, windy conditions Friday threatened already fire-ravaged southeastern Australian communities.

The danger is centered on New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s most populous states, where temperatures and wind speeds are escalating after a few days of relatively benign conditions.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service had warned that coastal towns south of Sydney including Eden, Batemans Bay and Nowra could again be under threat weeks after losing homes to the fires. By early evening Friday, the wildfires burning in that region were holding within containment lines, but a strong shift in winds predicted for later Friday could cause them to flare anew, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters.

“A long afternoon to go, a long night still to go, for all our firefighters and those affected by the fires,” Fitzimmons said.

“A long afternoon to go, a long night still to go, for all our firefighters and those affected by the fires,” Fitzimmons said.

In neighboring Victoria, evacuation orders were issued in alpine areas, and Premier Daniel Andrews pleaded with residents to heed alerts and avoid complacency even though no fresh destruction was being reported.

“Despite this unprecedented fire activity, we have nobody who is unaccounted for, we have no further people who have died, and we have no further communities who have been cut off,” Andrews told reporters.

“Now, all of those things can change and that is perhaps the most powerful reminder that we have to remain vigilant. Please, listen to the warnings and do as you are asked. If you are told to leave a community, and you can leave, then you should leave.”

The unprecedented fire crisis in southeast Australia has claimed at least 26 lives, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland since September.