Bushfires Destroy Properties in Sydney Region; One Reported Death

By Michael Sin | October 18, 2013

Firefighters battled to contain bushfires that damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes in the Sydney region as authorities warned Australia’s most-populous state faces hazardous conditions for months to come.

A 63-year-old man died protecting his home from a fire at Lake Munmorah on the New South Wales Central Coast, about 110 kilometers (68 miles) north of Sydney, NSW police said in a statement on its website.

“We’re seeing some of the worst bushfires experienced around Sydney in living memory,” state Premier Barry O’Farrell told Sky News today. “Emergency services are in for a long tough summer.”

The NSW Rural Fire Service drafted crews from other states to help fight more than 25 uncontained blazes and issued three emergency warnings, down from seven yesterday. The Insurance Council of Australia declared yesterday’s blazes a “catastrophe” and said it had received more than 200 claims for property loss or damage, with many more claims expected.

“We do need to brace ourselves for home and building losses in the hundreds,” Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters.

Nine state schools were closed due to the fires, according to the NSW education department.

Airport Re-opens
Newcastle Airport, a regional hub about 175 kilometers [110 miles] north of Sydney, re-opened today after a nearby bushfire forced it to cancel services yesterday.

“It’s heartbreaking to see so many people lose houses,” said Matt Poynting, a 22-year-old resident of the Blue Mountains region about 80 kilometers [50 miles] west of Sydney. “In the last 25 years, this is probably in the top three bushfires we’ve had.”

While the haze that blanketed Sydney’s skyline yesterday mostly cleared, the smell of smoke was still in the air today. The Bureau of Meteorology forecast a maximum temperature of 22 degrees Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit) for the city today, about 12 degrees cooler than yesterday.

The nation’s bushfire season has started early after the country’s warmest September on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. In February 2009, wild fires across Victoria State killed 173 people and destroyed 150 homes in the worst blazes in Australian history.

With assistance from Narayanan Somasundaram in Sydney. Editors: Edward Johnson, Malcolm Scott

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