By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney
Australia's government has announced emergency payments to victims of the country's bush fires that continue to burn out of control.
Thick smoke from the bush fires has blanketed Melbourne
Firefighters in the southern state of Tasmania have been stretched to the limit as the outbreaks intensify.
Fires have destroyed vast areas of forest and farmland along with several homes across four Australian states.
Flames have torn through inaccessible areas, making some fires impossible to contain.
The fires are also threatening several small towns and villages.
In Tasmania, emergency crews - many of which are volunteers - are struggling to cope.
Conditions over the next 24 hours are expected to be even more hostile, with high temperatures and strong winds.
Residents in the state of Victoria are preparing for the onslaught of a large fire front.
The federal government has announced financial relief to farmers and small businesses.
Grants worth several thousand dollars will be available to those who have seen their livelihoods ruined by the bush fires.
Prime Minister John Howard said parts of the country faced a long, hot summer as the fires continue to rage.
Many are caused by lightning, while others are started deliberately.
A 58-year-old man has been charged with arson by police in Western Australia.
So far few injuries have been reported, although the authorities across this arid continent are warning that the worst may still be to come.