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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 09:22 GMT
Australian fire conditions ease
A firefighter tries to control a blaze in Katoomba, west of Sydney, Australia
Some firefighters have not stopped for six weeks
Extreme weather conditions have eased overnight in southern Australia, giving firefighters battling bushfires there a much needed break.

More than 80 fires are still burning across the states of Victoria and New South Wales, but few homes are threatened.

Temperatures which soared past 40C (104F) on Thursday have cooled to around 30C (86F), winds have dropped and light rain has fallen in some areas. The better conditions are expected to last over the weekend.

Seven people have died and hundreds have been injured in the blazes - triggered by hot weather and the worst drought in a century - which have been raging across the south east for the past three weeks.

Much-needed break

"The rain and the cool change last night has knocked things on the head," a fire services spokesman in northern Victoria, Paul Mansfield, told the Associated Press news agency.

Many of the 3,500 firefighters who were working in New South Wales on Thursday were sent home on Friday for a rest, Rural Fire Service spokesman John Winter said.

Thursday was one of the most difficult days for the fire authorities since the bush fires began.

Fires forced the evacuation of up to a dozen villages in the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales. Mr Winter said fires there were not moving so fast on Thursday, and the ski resort of Jindabyne was no longer in jeopardy.

More than 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) of land and 600 houses have been burned in the fires. The most damage was incurred in a firestorm in the federal capital, Canberra, on 18 January.

There alone losses caused by the damage has been estimated at to A$250m ($150m).


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30 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
20 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
20 Jan 03 | Science/Nature
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06 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
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