Australians prepare to battle worst bushfires in 18 years as authorities fear 105,000 people could be displaced

Australians prepare to battle worst bushfires in 18 years as authorities fear 105,000 people could be displaced

The deadliest bushfires in Australian history were heading towards Canberra today as the national capital braced for the worst blazes in 18 years.

More than 550 firefighters and 50 trucks were battling to contain two major blazes, one in the Mount Lawson area of Canberra, the capital of the Australian Capital Territory, and one in the Eden Valley area, about 30 miles to the west.

The fires have threatened the area's almost 23,000 residents.

Three people died in Canberra in 2003 in a firestorm that also ravaged Victoria state, scorching 1,000 square miles of bushland and destroying thousands of homes.

More than 550 firefighters and 50 trucks were battling to contain two major blazes, one in the Mount Lawson area of Canberra, the capital of the Australian Capital Territory, and one in the Eden Valley area, about 30 miles to the west

The fires have threatened the area's almost 23,000 residents. Pictured is an exhausted workman clearing debris from a burnt-out house and trees near the Campbell area of Queanbeyan

Queanbeyan police Detective Inspector Bradley Smith said firefighters were working to cut a fire break to get ahead of flames that were headed toward the capital from bushland

Yesterday, 32 bushfires were burning across Victoria state and the authorities were bracing for more.

More than 700 firefighters were working on six fires in and around Melbourne and two more were burning near Mildura, near the border with South Australia.

The Civil Defence had issued warnings to about 25,000 residents to be ready to evacuate.

Victoria's experienced communities were on alert and residents along Victoria's western coast were seeing the biggest plumes of smoke.

The Australian Red Cross said it had recruited more than 8,000 volunteers to help, with some 3,000 personnel at work, and disaster work continues throughout the day to clear homes, enforce evacuations and tackle fires.

''This is a challenging day, because of the heat, the humidity, the dust particles and the dry wind,'' Mr Doyle said.

'We're trying to keep up and manage the fires using our best knowledge and that's spread all across the country.'

A video shot by a firefighter shows the close call they were lucky to escape from one of the Canberra blazes on Wednesday.

The QFAR station was almost entirely destroyed in the 2000 fires which killed 45 people, destroyed 1,800 homes and razed around 1,300 sqkm of bushland.

Deputy Fire Commissioner Dominic Lane said Wednesday's fire was moving fast in the direction of Mount Lawson

Two firefighters were injured as they spent the night at the Queanbeyan house where they worked.

'They're nursing broken fingers, bruises, headaches, sore backs,' Lane said.

'The biggest hit was last night. We've got a fire service that has been exhausted after working around the clock,' he said.

'We've had a lot of outdoor operations going on for weeks now.'

Police were investigating whether the small house firefighters were staying in was booby trapped.

Firefighters work to extinguish a large bushfire which is near the NSW coastal town of Port Macquarie in New South Wales

The Queanbeyan police Detective Inspector Bradley Smith said firefighters were working to cut a fire break to get ahead of flames that were headed toward the capital from bushland

Victoria's experienced communities were on alert and residents along Victoria's western coast were seeing the biggest plumes of smoke

The Civil Defence had issued warnings to about 25,000 residents to be ready to evacuate. Pictured is an exhausted workman clearing debris from a burnt-out house and trees near the Campbell area of Queanbeyan

Elsewhere, a blaze near Melbourne's bayside suburbs began to spread on Thursday.

Evacuation orders were in place for 150 homes in the northern suburb of Scotchville, home to a number of housing estates and factories, and in the town of Markham.

''Fires have moved rapidly throughout the area and some residents might need to evacuate their properties if they choose to do so,'' the fire department said.

Victoria Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the dry conditions were 'frightening', and some residents had been moved to the safety of more distant suburbs.

'The absolute priority for us right now is reducing the out-of-control fires and getting people out of the way,'' he said.


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