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Australia orders evacuations as fires reach Sydney suburbs

SYDNEY:Australian officials ordered people in several communities, including a major tourist destination, to evacuate immediately on Wednesday as firefighters struggled to contain more than 150 bushfires raging across the east coast.

While cooler weather overnight brought some relief for firefighters in New South Wales (NSW) state, attention shifted to its northern neighbor, Queensland, where hot, dry and windy conditions brought severe fire danger.

Authorities issued a “leave immediately” warning, the highest level, for several areas including Noosa, a beachside holiday destination 150 km north of Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland.

“Conditions are now very dangerous and firefighters may soon be unable to prevent the fire advancing,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) said. “The fire may pose a threat to all lives directly in its path.”

Noosa Mayor Tony Wellington told Reuters many of the residents in the affected north, accessible only by ferry or via the beach, had got out this week.

But he added that winds were picking up, making things particularly tricky. “There are plenty of crews battling the fire, including two helicopters,” he said.

The blaze in Noosa is one of more than 80 fires across Queensland, leaving firefighters stretched.

QFES said one of its water-bombing helicopters crashed while battling a fire in Pechey, west of Brisbane, though the pilot escaped with minor injuries.

Bushfires are common in Australia’s hot, dry summers, but the ferocity and early arrival of the fires in the southern spring this year has caught many by surprise.

The blazes have claimed three lives and destroyed about 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of farmland and bush, fueled by extremely dry conditions after three years of drought, which experts say has been exacerbated by climate change.

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