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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019
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Australian military investigates whether it is to blame for bushfire

Around 80 fires are burning across New South Wales, with about 20 of them uncontained.

Smoke rises from a fire at Springwood.
Smoke rises from a fire at Springwood.
Image: New South Wales Rural Fire Service

THE AUSTRALIAN MILITARY is investigating whether a major outbreak of bushfires is linked to an explosives training exercise, as firefighters battled blazes that have destroyed or damaged 300 homes.

The Rural Fire Service said around 80 fires were burning across New South Wales state, with about 20 of them uncontained despite cooler weather conditions today.

Among the major fires was one burning between the towns of Lithgow and Bilpin, some 80 kilometres northwest of Sydney, which intensified after burning through 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) and reportedly destroying some properties.

“This fire is by no means contained,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.

It’s got absolutely kilometres and kilometres of fire front.

The Australian Defence Force said it was investigating the circumstances of the fire near Lithgow, which began on defence land.

image

A fire near Lithgow, west of Sydney (AP Photo/New South Wales Rural Fire Service)

“The fire started on 16 October, the same day that Defence personnel were conducting an explosive ordnance training activity,” it said in a statement.

Defence is investigating if the two events are linked.

“Our thoughts are with those who have lost property or whose property is threatened by these devastating fires,” it added.

Forecast

Firefighters are battling bushfires across New South Wales, which could take weeks to fully overcome, particularly with more hot and gusty weather forecast for as soon as Sunday.

One man has already died while trying to protect his home on the Central Coast north of Sydney, possibly succumbing to a heart attack, but authorities are hopeful no other people are unaccounted for in the blazes.

The fires took hold in warm and windy conditions on Thursday and the worst affected areas have been in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, where around 193 properties were destroyed and 109 damaged in the towns of Springwood and Winmalee.

Crews were called to protect homes in the Lithgow region later Saturday, and also stepped up efforts in Springwood as that blaze continued to threaten more homes with a small local hospital evacuated as a precaution.

Will take ‘weeks’ to extinguish

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said some of the fires were so big they would take more time to completely extinguish.

“Firefighters will be working on these fires for weeks,” he said.

It’s all about reducing the risk of these fires to breach containment lines and run under hotter, drier, windier condition over coming days.

In the meantime, residents were returning to the remains of their homes, searching through the rubble for valuables and keepsakes.

In Lithgow, the scenic tourist attraction the Zig Zag Railway has been hard hit, with trains, carriages and equipment destroyed.

The railway, which runs on the original track built in the 1860s, was soon to be reopened to the public after being closed last year for upgrades.

- © AFP, 2013

Read: Bushfires cause death and devastation in New South Wales >

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