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Bad Weather Hampers Firefighters in Sydney

Australian firefighters battling fierce bush fires near Sydney say more bad weather is moving in. And electrical storms moving over the Blue Mountains to the west of Australia's biggest city, have raised new fears the fires surrounding the city will worsen.

Authorities say the outlook for the next four days is not good and report more lightning strikes and winds gusting up to 95 kilometers an hour in some parts will only make conditions worse for the fire-ravaged state of New South Wales.

A hundred fires - which began last week - are still burning around Australia's most populous state. At least one town southwest of Sydney is now on evacuation alert. Some elderly and frail residents have already been moved from their homes by ambulances.

Weather forecasters predict there will be no relief from the warm, dry windy conditions until at least the end of the week.

There have been calls for Sydney to abandon its traditional end-of-year fireworks extravaganza. The show attracts more than a million people to the city's famous bridge and harbor. Callers to talk radio stations said it was insensitive to the victims of the fire for the festivities to go ahead.

But Sydney's Lord Mayor Frank Sartor says nothing must stand in the way of the party. "It's been a difficult year for a lot of Australians, for people around the world. It's had the specter of terrorism sort of loom over the international scene," he says. "More than ever before, I think it's very important that we get on with life and Sydney shows the world as we do with this spectacular event which is televised everywhere around the world that we're getting on with life, that it's business as usual."

Whether party-goers will see the fireworks is another matter. For a seventh day Sydney lies shrouded in a cloudy haze of smoke from the fires. Pollution levels are at an all-time high.

Fire Service Commissioner Phil Koperberg says if fire activity increases, hundreds of New Year's Eve fireworks celebrations in New South Wales will be canceled, even at the last minute.

With a hundred bush fires burning across the state, a total fire ban has been extended for another 24 hours and all fireworks organizers have been warned they need to have special clearance if they want to go ahead with their plans.