'Mega-fire' burns out of control just north of Sydney, Australia

'Mega-fire' burns out of control just north of Sydney, Australia

More than eight bushfires have merged to form a "mega-fire" which is now raging out of control across a swath of land just north of Sydney. Firefighters said it will take weeks to control, but will not be contained without heavy rains.​

The fire is burning across 300 000 ha (740 000 acres) with a front around 60 km (37 miles) wide, within an hour's drive of the largest city in Australia, which was again engulfed in toxic smoke. This has also caused a spike in respiratory illnesses.

"There is just fire that whole way," said New South Wales Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers on Friday.

He added that firefighters could do little more than evacuate residents, protect properties, and hope for an end to extreme weather conditions.

"We cannot stop these fires; they will just keep burning until conditions ease, and then we'll try to do what we can to contain them," Rogers told the media. "The best thing we can do is try to protect property and people as much as we can." 

300 animals were evacuated at a wildlife park in the area.

Walkabout Wildlife Park said lizards, dingoes, peacocks, and marsupials had been shipped out as firefighters tried to contain over 100 fires near the eastern seaboard.

"This fire has been doing some crazy things, so we have to be prepared," general manager Tassin Barnard stated.

Some firemen from the US and Canada had arrived to help out, said New South Wales rural fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons. Moreover, he said the worst might be ahead with temperatures expected to rise into 40 °C (104 °F) in the following days and no significant rainfall until late January.

Although bushfires are common in Australia, experts said this year's season has come earlier and with more extremity due to a prolonged drought. For the past three months, spot fires have sparked every day.

Approximately 2 million ha (5 million acres) have burned so far on the continent.

Since the bushfire crisis began in September, more than 680 homes have been left in ruins, and six lives were taken. This year's toll belies the scale of devastation.

Featured image credit: Antonio Vecoli

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