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Bush Fire Crisis Continues Despite Torrential Rain in Australia - 2002-01-08

Authorities in eastern Australia say the Christmas bush fire crisis continues despite torrential rain earlier this week. Crews are confronting serious blazes to the south of Sydney. Two giant American water-dumping helicopters have been called in to join the fire fighting campaign.

The real hotspot remains in the Shoalhaven district, 190 kilometers south of Australia's most heavily populated city, Sydney. Many of the 2,500 people forced from their homes and holiday cottages by flames Monday have been allowed to return, but the threat to communities is very much alive.

John Winter from the New South Wales State fire service says, once again, emergency teams are at the mercy of the ever-changing weather. "The wind forecast is for west-south westerlies still up to 60 kilometers an hour. That's obviously going to prove very difficult for fire fighters. Of possibly greater concern is the potential for the wind to swing around to the south-east. "Mr. Winter continues "The most uncontained side of the fire is the western side and that will allow the fire to escape into very rugged bush land. Our concern there is that once it resurfaces, that may pose a further property threat further down the track."

Raging fires in the area around the town of Cessnock north of Sydney are also causing concern. They're burning out of control in the nearby Yengo national park.

Elsewhere, the fire emergencies are easing. Monday's downpour has doused most of the fires in two of the major hot spots, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and the Hawkesbury region to the northwest. Mopping up efforts go on and officials warn that some fires may continue to burn underground. But overall it would seem the danger in these areas has passed.

Many firefighters from other states are now leaving New South Wales, with the crisis waning.

So far, the Christmas fires in this scorching part of eastern Australia have destroyed 600,000 hectares of bush land, almost 200 homes and thousands of animals.