Milder weather on Tuesday gave a much-needed respite to those battling the worst bushfires ever seen around Sydney in recent weeks, but weather forecasters predicted that the crisis will pick up again after the Christmas period.
More than 3 million hectares of forested land north, west and south of Sydney have gone up in flames, according to the Rural Fire Service - an area around the size of Belgium.
Eight people have lost their lives, including two volunteer firefighters. Close to 1,000 homes have been lost.
Dozens of Canadian, US and New Zealand firefighters have arrived to help the exhausted locals, the Rural Fire Service said.
The forecast for Christmas and Boxing Day offers the chance for many firefighters to return home to celebrate Christmas with their families.
However, the Bureau of Meteorology said conditions are expected to worsen again on Sunday, with temperatures climbing back up past 40 degrees Celsius and winds that could whip up the fires.
Around 76 separate fires were still raging in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney on Tuesday afternoon, and some roads heading west and south of Sydney were cut off by fire, the Rural Fire Service said.
Fires were also still raging in South Australia, where 86 homes were lost last weekend, including several vineyards which were burned to the ground, according to the South Australian Fire Service.
One winemaker described to the national broadcaster ABC how he had to leap into a lake to escape the flames to find he was sharing the water with a dozen kangaroos.
Wildlife has suffered terribly in the bushfires with an estimated 2,000 koalas killed as they could not escape the fast-moving flames, Port Macquarie Koala Hospital's clinical director Cheyne Flanagan told the New Daily newspaper.
Despite moderate temperate on Tuesday, extra humidity in the air had hampered some attempts at backburning, according to Shane Fitzsimmons, the Rural Fire Service Commissioner for the state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital.
Backburning involves controlled fires being burned to reduce the amount of fuel available to the main fire.
Fitzsimmons said firefighters were busy clearing land near properties in preparation for the worsening conditions expected at the weekend.
‘We've got more than two and a half million hectares of country we're dealing with at the moment and thousands of kilometres of fire edge,’ he told reporters.
‘We're really trying to consolidate as much as we can, secure protection as best we can, ahead of what's expected to be hotter, drier and, this time, a bit more northerly in the winds.’ Those winds could push fires in the mountain towards townships on the Great Western Highway, the only road that crosses the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Parts of the highway are closed due to the fires.
Roads heading south from Sydney are closed, and holidaymakers have been warned to avoid the south coast.
Only heavy rain can stop the fires, and no significant rain is predicted before February.
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