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Australian Firefighters Confront ‘Mega Blaze’ Near Sydney

Rural Fire Service firefighters control a backburn in an effort to contain an approaching fire near Nattai, southwest of Sydney, Australia, Dec. 7, 2019.

One hundred forty bushfires continue to burn across eastern Australia. A huge blaze near Sydney is bigger in size than the city itself and could take weeks to put out. Conditions have eased Saturday but the dangers persist.

Sydney is again shrouded in a toxic, smoky haze. Health warnings have been issued and many weekend sporting activities have been cancelled. Several blazes have combined to create a “mega fire” north of Australia’s biggest city. The fire's front is 60 kilometers long and officials warn it is simply too big to put out.

Lauren McGowan works in a bar in the nearby city of Cessnock.

“Everyone is a bit on edge, getting a little bit too close to home for around here. Like, even with people we have working here the fires are practically on their doors,” she said.

There are 95 bushfires here in the drought-hit state of New South Wales. Half are burning out of control. More than 2,000 firefighters are on the ground. Their task is unrelenting, but reinforcements have arrived from overseas, including Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

Morgan Kehr, a senior firefighter from Edmonton, has flown in to join his Australian counterparts, who have in previous years battled blazes in Canada.

“First time away from Christmas, as it is with all of these guys. Certainly a tough conversation but we’re happy," said Kehr. "We’ve been assisted four times out of the last five years.”

There are hazardous conditions in Queensland, to the north. Parts of that state are blanketed in smoke, and dozens of blazes still rage. The World Health Quality index, a nonprofit environmental project based in China that measures global pollution, has shown unhealthy levels of air quality in many areas.

Authorities say that only heavy rain will put some of the fires out, but, ominously, the forecast is for more hot and dry conditions over the Australian summer.