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Homes Destroyed in Sydney Fires

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Homes destroyed in Sydney fires

Tuesday, October 8, 2002 Posted: 9:42 AM EDT (1342 GM

Last year's bushfires came to within 10 kilometers of Sydney's central business district

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Bushfires have damaged as many as 12 homes and forced evacuations in Sydney's outer suburbs as more than 70 fires burn around the eastern Australian state.

Major fires are burning in Engadine in Sydney's south, as well as Castlereagh, north west of the city, aided by strong north-westerly winds and temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius (86F).

Local media reports as many as 12 homes have been damaged, some completely destroyed.

Dozens of residents have been forced to flee their homes as the fire crisis deepens.

Fire crews say they are expecting the conditions to improve later Tuesday, but are struggling to contain the blaze at Engadine fanned by strong winds and dry bushland, local media report.

Residents have been urged not to evacuate their homes until so advised by emergency services.

Drought

The blazes mark an earlier than usual start for Australia's bushfire season with the situation made worse by an extended drought across much of the country. Many areas have not seen rain for more than six months.

In NSW, Australia's most populous state, 93 percent is now officially in drought with many areas the driest they've been since records began more than 100 years ago.

Last Christmas, hundreds of bushfires raged for more than two weeks in and around Sydney, Australia's commercial capital and largest city.

That fire crisis, which began on Christmas Eve, razed more than 570,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of land and destroyed 170 properties, causing more than $40 million of damage.

At one stage more than 20,000 firefighters were required to control the flames and water-bombing helicopters were flown in from the United States to assist with the battle.

A spokesman for the NSW Rural Fire Service told CNN Monday that the drought situation did not bode well for the months ahead.

"It's certainly going to be a long summer. It's going to be full on," the spokesman said.

Australia's bushfire season officially began on October 1 and fires have been burning ever since.

The spokesman warned that areas which were burned by last year's infernos could easily catch fire again, although the blazes would be less intense.

Natural event

And while hundreds of thousands of hectares were burnt last year, there remained "millions and millions" of hectares of bush which had been unaffected.

Australian bushland is dominated by eucalyptus and other oily trees which catch fire easily in dry weather and burn with great intensity.

However, many plant species in the Australian bush are also dependent on the fires to stimulate re-growth. Burnt-out areas are often fully restored in just a few years.

While the fires are a necessary and natural event in Australia, the expansion of city suburbs into native bush areas over the past few decades has increased the damaging impact of the infernos on property.

For example, Sydney, a city of 4 million people, has extensive bushland areas fringing the city and reaching deep into suburban areas, often to within just a few kilometers of the central business district.

Last year's fires at one stage came to within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of the main central business district.

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