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October 24, 2013

Military Drill Sparked Massive Australian Wildfire: Investigators

Australian officials say a routine military drill is responsible for sparking one of the largest of the dozens of fires that have ravaged the country's most populous state.

Investigators say an explosion during a live-fire military exercise ignited bushland near the city of Lithgow, west of Sydney. The blaze has burned 47,000 hectares of land and destroyed several houses.

Mark Greenhill, the mayor of the nearby town of Blue Mountains, said he hopes to see a transparent investigation.



"I'm certainly not out for a witch hunt, and I'm certainly not out to, you know, sort of demand retribution. I think on behalf of my community, what we need is knowledge. So that I can say to them, 'We've learned lessons' and prevent this from happening again."



Though the danger has eased somewhat with the onset of cooler weather, more than 60 fires are still burning in New South Wales state, with many still raging out of control. Since late last week, the fires have destroyed over 200 homes.

Officials said Thursday a pilot helping to fight the fires became the second person to die during the crisis after his plane crashed in a remote area south of Sydney. Authorities have not been able to recover the body of the 43-year-old man. It is not clear what caused the crash, which sparked another fire.

Earlier, a man died of a heart attack while trying to save his home from a blaze.

The blazes have been extraordinarily intense and early in an annual fire season that peaks during the southern hemisphere summer, which begins in December.