By Maggie Lu Yueyang
SYDNEY — Australian firefighters battled massive wildfires in bushland around Sydney on Wednesday (23/10/2013), but hot weather that could have caused a catastrophic mega-fire did not materialise, allowing authorities to tell some evacuated residents it was safe to return to home.
However, the crisis was far from over with new fires igniting and strong winds fanning blazes in the Blue Mountains, a major commuter area of small towns west of Sydney.
Around 60 fires were still burning across New South Wales (NSW) state, with more than 2,000 firefighters struggling to contain them, with more hot and windy weather forecast.
As exhausted firefighters moved from fire to fire, residents used garden hoses to try and save their homes.
More than 200 homes have been destroyed in NSW since last Thursday, when fires tore through Sydney’s outskirts, razing entire streets. One man died from a heart attack while trying to save his home.
Earlier on Wednesday, residents in the Blue Mountains were urged to drive down to the safety of metropolitan Sydney, but by the evening some were returning home.
"If you have been someone that has chosen to depart the Blue Mountains today...(to) be out of harm’s way, then it would be safe to head back home tonight because the risk has been averted,” said Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.
Fitzsimmons warned the situation could deteriorate again and urged people to be vigilant.
"There are still fires flaring up, impacting on communities this afternoon,” he said. "I won’t rest easy until I know things have settled right down over the next 24 hours or so and we start seeing some really good further consolidation of control lines and bringing these fires more under control.”
The fires have burned through more than 120,000 hectares (300,000 acres) and have a perimeter of some 1,600 km (990 miles). Firefighters fear strong winds may see three major fires in the Blue Mountains join up in coming days, creating one massive wildfire. - Reuters