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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 January 2006, 08:18 GMT
Bushfires edging towards Sydney
Further bushfires have broken out in south-east Australia amid fears that they could reach the city of Sydney.

Firefighters tackled blazes 60km (38 miles) north of the city and at least one home and some vehicles were destroyed near the town of Woy Woy.

The main highway heading north out of Sydney was closed to traffic due to the smoke and fire hazard, said officials.

More blazes are expected with temperatures of 40C (104F), tinder dry conditions and gusty winds forecast.

Fires widespread

Swathes of land have already been burnt in South Australia and total bans on lighting fires are in place in most parts of four states.

New South Wales, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, and most of Victoria are affected.

In New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, residents were evacuated from two small communities near the bay towns of Gosford and Woy Woy.

Serious fires were reported in several other areas of the state, but there were no reports of injuries.

"The fires are widespread and breaking out right across the state," New South Wales Rural Fire Service spokesperson Rebel Talbert said.

Cooler conditions were expected by late Sunday evening, but this could prompt fresh problems, with wind gusts of up to 80km per hour making fire behaviour very erratic, she said.

Firefighter tackles blaze near Sydney (archive photo)
Firefighters say blazes are likely to continue in the hot weather

In western Victoria, where a large bushfire destroyed five homes near Stawell late on Saturday, rainfall was bringing relief to firefighters as they fought to contain a blaze that has burnt out about 9,000 hectares (22,000 acres) of scrub and farmland.

On Friday, firefighters contained around 20 fires in New South Wales, while on Thursday a fire razed two houses and damaged a third in the capital Canberra.

The city suffered severely in January 2003, when fires destroyed more than 500 homes and killed four people in one day.

Authorities say a wet winter and spring followed by dry summer conditions have created an abundance of inflammable material around Canberra and the NSW countryside.

The path of the bushfires in Australia

Canberra fire response 'too slow'
04 Aug 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Australian fire conditions ease
31 Jan 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia faces new blaze threat
24 Jan 03 |  Asia-Pacific

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