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Australia Continues Battling Wildfires Around Sydney

Firefighters in eastern Australia continue to battle more than 80 wildfires burning in an arc around the country's largest city, Sydney. Two elderly men have been killed in the continuing emergency,and more than 40 homes have been destroyed.

Thick smoke continues to blanket much of Sydney, obscuring the summer sun. Four-thousand-500 firefighters and more than 80 aircraft are working along the front line of a firestorm that stretches for hundreds of kilometers and threatens homes across the region.

Despite overnight rain and falling temperatures, strong winds continue to fan 80 separate fires to the north, south and west of this city of four-million. Weather conditions are expected to become worse in the next 24 hours. The firefighters' enemy will once again be a cocktail of hot, dry, windy conditions coupled with a long-standing drought.

Fire authorities say these are the worst wildfires Sydney has seen for more than 30 years. So far it is estimated that 100-thousand hectares of scrubland have been destroyed. Hundreds of residents forced to flee their homes are being accommodated at emergency evacuation centers.

An 81-year-old man has been found dead in a burned-out caravan, becoming the second fatality of the crisis.

One Sydney resident saw her home destroyed by the flames, despite doing all she could to save it. "An hour and a half before it started we were just ready," she said. "We had our hoses, we had two pumps. We had the pool, we had clean gutters - we had done everything. It just came and hit."

The fires flared up on Wednesday in the tinder-dry bushland surrounding Sydney. Officials believe many were started deliberately.

An 18-year-old student arrested on Thursday was refused bail after appearing in court, charged with arson. He faces 14 years in jail if found guilty.

Health authorities are warning people to take precautions against the thick smoke. People with breathing problems are being asked to stay indoors.

The New South Wales Fire Service commissioner, Phil Koperberg, said only heavy rain would bring the crisis to an end, but weather forecasters say the chance of significant rainfall in the coming days, or even weeks, is remote.