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Evacuations Continue Around Sydney as Bush Fires Burn for 11th Day


Thousands more people are evacuating their homes around Sydney's suburbs, as 100 bush fires rage for an eleventh day. The New South Wales state government soon will bring in some heavy duty help.

Twenty-thousand firefighters face a fire line stretching 2,000 kilometers across New South Wales. There are fires as far north as Byron Bay, which lies close to the tropical state of Queensland. To the south, the flames have caused panic in many holiday resorts.

Seven-thousand people were forced to leave their homes and rented cottages, as the fires advanced at Sussex Inlet, 190 kilometers south of Sydney. A group of vacationers were airlifted to safety, when a blaze surrounded a camping area. Others who had sought refuge on a beach had to be rescued by boat.

The authorities say they now have the fires in those areas contained.

The situation in the Blue Mountains to Sydney's west is more alarming. A 60-kilometer fire front is linking outbreaks in the Nattai National Park in the southern highlands. A group of emergency workers were plucked to safety by helicopter, after they were trapped by an encircling inferno.

The New South Wales government says it will buy two more water-bombing helicopters to combat the blazes.

Built in the United States, the helicopters are nicknamed "Elvis," and can hold 9,000 liters of water. One such helitanker is on loan from the southern state of Victoria, and is the only one in Australia.

It has proved invaluable in fighting fires in the Blue Mountains, and the new additions will arrive within the next five days.

The state's emergency services minister, Bob Debus, has said the federal government will help pay for these multi-million dollar aircraft.

"We are persuaded by its performance in recent days that it would be a more than reasonable thing to bring some more of these aircraft, and I gather that the Commonwealth will be assisting us in the purchase and maintenance of them into the future," he said.

Weather forecasters predict a slight but brief respite from tough conditions in the next two days, before the return of fierce winds and soaring temperatures on Sunday and Monday.

Half-a-million hectares of farmland and forest have been destroyed. Only minor injuries have been reported among the army of firefighters and residents who have joined them in the battle to save their homes.

The so-called Black Christmas fires are the worst here since 1994.

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