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Brush Fires Continue in Australia - 2001-12-26

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is due to inspect the devastation inflicted by raging bush fires across much of the eastern state of New South Wales Wednesday. About five-thousand firefighters are trying to contain more than 75 blazes. The evacuation of towns on the front line has continued overnight.

Fire fighters say the devastation is spreading at an unprecedented rate. The government has declared parts of New South Wales natural disaster areas. Dozens of properties have been destroyed including homes, shops and schools. But no fatalitires have been reported. Hundreds of people have fled their homes and many more are ready to go.

Reinforcements from the southern state of Victoria have been flown in to join this massive emergency effort. Hundreds of volunteers have been called up along with military personell. The aerial bombardment of the worst-affected areas is having little success.

Fire crews are battling a 700-kilometer fire front. Senior officers are admitting it's proving impossible to stop fires of such intensity and that emergency crews at the mercy of nature.

Early relief appears unlikely. Hot, dry winds are fanning the flames in the already dry conditions to the west, north and south of Sydney. An orange haze has descended over Australia's biggest city.

The Prime Minister John Howard is scheduled to see for himself the scale of their task when he flies over the worst affected areas.

Suburbs on the outskirts of Sydney have been affected as the fires continue to rage. Settlements in the Blue Mountains to the west have been devastated. To the south some coastal communities have also felt the full force of the fires.

Many roads and highways remain closed after five days of fires. And National parks around Sydney have been shut and bushwalkers have been told to stay at home.