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Sydney on alert as bushfires rage on.

Byline: Darren Deeley in Sydney

Emergency officials warned residents around Australia's biggest city today to stay on alert as extreme weather was expected to fuel fires that have burned out of control since Christmas Day.

Relatively mild weather conditions helped fire fighters contain some of the 100 bushfires burning across New South Wales state yesterday but fires in the Blue Mountains to Sydney's west and south of the city were still major concerns. State officials warned the respite would likely only be temporary. Temperatures tomorrow are forecast to soar to 39 or 40 degrees Celsius,coupled with strong southerly winds.

The break in the harsh summer weather helped more than 5,000 weary firefighters establish firebreaks and backburning operations to starve the fires of fuel.

The bushfires ruined Christmas celebrations across New South Wales in the worst outbreak since 1994.

The fires, some blamed on arson, have destroyed at least 150 homes but there have been no reports of death or serious injury unlike in 1994 when four people died in the state.

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Phil Koperberg estimated yesterday that fires were burning unchecked on fronts across the state measuring some 375 miles.

One massive 18 miles fire,which has been burning out of control for the past week, was only a few kilometres from towns in the Blue Mountains, an area to the west of the city popular with Sydney commuters.

Backburning operations overnight were concentrated there and on several fires south of Sydney.

Officials called on people across New South Wales to conserve water.

State Fire Brigade spokesman Ian Krimmer asked residents in affected areas to alert fire crews if they had swimming pools in their gardens so that they could be drained of water.

A Sydney Water spokesman called on residents in affected areas to limit water use to essential needs.

A special ``Sky Crane''helicopter, which carries 1,980 gallons of water, has been shipped to Sydney to fight the fires.

Another 500 fire fighting personnel and 100 vehicles from other states will arrive over the weekend.

Police suspect that up to 40 of the more than 100 fires ravaging the state were started deliberately and have set up a special task force to investigate arson.

The fires have blackened tens of thousands of hectares (acres), killed thousands of sheep and cut road and rail links along with power supplies to about 12,000 properties.

Dozens of firefighters have been treated for smoke inhalation.

Insurance officials estimate the cost of the current fires at about $10 million, although it could rise.

CAPTION(S):

Christin Stefferson sifts through the remains of her kitchen after bush fires ripped across the Blue Mountains suburb of Warrimoo, 20 miles west of Sydney yesterday
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 29, 2001
Words:454
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