Cooler temps, rain help ease Australian wildfires

AP News
Posted: Oct 22, 2013 2:04 AM
Cooler temps, rain help ease Australian wildfires

SYDNEY (AP) — Firefighters battling dozens of wildfires in Australia's most populous state merged two of the most worrying blazes on Tuesday to try to reduce the threat of a more unpredictable inferno taking hold.

There had been fears that three of the fires near the Blue Mountains west of Sydney would join to create a massive, erratic wall of fire that would be difficult to control. So firefighters struck first, combining two of the fires into one that is easier to manage and contain.

Cooler temperatures, calmer winds and a light drizzle were giving thousands of firefighters a reprieve in fighting the blazes Tuesday.

The fires have killed one man, destroyed 208 homes and damaged another 122 in New South Wales state since last week, the Rural Fire Service said.

The number of fires burning dropped from more than 100 last week to 60 on Tuesday, with 15 still out of control, Fire Service spokesman Joel Kursawe said. Fires that had previously been ranked the highest danger were all downgraded by the fire service.

Still, officials said the threat had not completely evaporated, as the weather was expected to heat back up on Wednesday.

"We cannot afford for complacency or a lull, as welcome as any relief in weather conditions are," Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.