, SYDNEY, Dec 10 – More than 120 wildfires fanned by high winds and soaring temperatures raged in southeastern Australia Thursday, prompting emergency warnings for several towns, officials said.
Some 2,000 firefighters were tackling the fires in New South Wales, where a large blaze was burning dangerously close to farming properties in the state\’s northwest.
"The fire is currently burning on a wide front … and is currently less than two hours away from properties," the Rural Fire Service (RFS) said.
It urged residents of Bundarra and Barraba towns to be ready to evacuate, warning that "fires will be uncontrollable, unpredictable and fast moving".
Authorities in New South Wales and neighbouring Queensland, which was also hit by several fires, braced for worsening conditions with temperatures soaring towards 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and humidity set to drop.
"Really we have got so many fires … any number of them may pose a risk this afternoon," said RFS assistant commissioner Rob Rogers.
"Some of those fires could run pretty hard today … We are not banking on any favourable weather at the moment," he added.
On Wednesday, a park ranger died and a pilot was seriously injured when their helicopter crashed while mapping fires. A day earlier, two water-bombing helicopters clipped tail rotors in mid-air, but no one was injured.
Australia is still reeling from February\’s Black Saturday disaster, when fires engulfed entire towns and claimed 173 lives in Victoria state.