Fueled by ‘Catastrophic’ Conditions, Wildfires Rage Across Australia

Posted January 8th, 2013 at 3:35 am (UTC-5)
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Wildfires continue to rage out of control across southeast Australia on Tuesday, with authorities warning of “catastrophic” conditions in some areas.

Officials say more than 130 fires, many uncontained, are burning in the heavily populated New South Wales state, where temperatures reached 45 degrees and wind gusts reached more than 100 kilometers per hour.

In the southern island of Tasmania, rescue officials are still trying to locate around 100 residents who have been missing after a fire tore through a village, destroying dozens of homes.

No deaths have been reported, but officials warn Tuesday conditions have reached a “catastrophic” level, meaning fires will be uncontrollable and fast-moving, with evacuation the only safe option.

State forests and national parks have been closed and total fire bans are in place, as authorities warned that an oppressive heat wave may not end in many parts of the country until later on Tuesday.

Australian firefighters, using helicopters and planes, are battling the fires, which are ablaze in five of the country's six states.

Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. In February of 2009, hundreds of fires across Victoria state killed 173 people and caused $4.4 billion worth of damage.