One person has died and hundreds of homes are feared lost in Australia as firefighters battle to contain nearly 100 bushfires blazing in the state of New South Wales.
A 63-year-old man suffered a fatal heart attack while trying to protect his property on the Central Coast, north of Sydney, on Thursday evening. Another seven people, including two firefighters, were treated for injuries in hospital, the ABC reported on Friday.
Emergency services estimate that the fires — the worst to hit Australia’s most populous state in a decade — razed as many as 200 houses. Most were in the World Heritage area of the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott praised the nearly 1,500 emergency-services personnel and volunteers for working to keep the community safe.
“These are ordinary people who, on an extraordinary day, come together to support their community and to protect their fellow Australians,” Abbott said at a fire station in the Blue Mountains on Friday afternoon.
Some 94 fires were still burning on Friday afternoon, with 27 blazing out of control, according to emergency services.
In other parts of the Blue Mountains, residents who had been evacuated started to return to their homes on Friday. Dozens, including firefighters who had been out on duty, found no more than charred ruins and twisted metal where their houses once stood.
Temperatures dropped and winds eased on Friday, helping emergency-services personnel who had struggled to control flames being fueled by strong winds.
While bushfires are common during Australia’s summer months, the season started early this year amid an unusually dry and hot winter and spring.