Sydney-Brisbane Highway Shut as Australian Wildfires Continue to Burn

Australian leader says U.N. climate adviser is 'talking through her hat' over role of global warming and spread of wildfires

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Dan Himbrechts / EPA

New South Wales Rural Fire Service crews mop up an area after stopping a fire from impacting on a property at Bilpin, in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, Oct. 23, 2013.

More than 3,000 firefighters battled to control an enormous fire front raging across the Australian state of New South Wales on Wednesday, as new blazes broke out near Newcastle, north of Sydney.

Some 71 fires — 29 of which were out of control — continued to burn across New South Wales on Wednesday, almost a week after the blazes began, the BBC reports. Authorities closed a major highway between Sydney and Brisbane, as two fires broke out at Minmi and Gateshead on the central coast. More than 1300 homes and businesses in fire-affected areas lost power, according to the ABC.

Emergency services said scores of Blue Mountains residents who were evacuated this morning should be able to return to their homes later on Wednesday, the BBC reports. The threat to the Blue Mountains area “has been averted” for now, the state’s Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

Debates about whether global warming has played a role in the fire crisis were fueled this morning when Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott dismissed comments by the United Nations’ Climate Change chief, who had said on Tuesday that there was a clear link between climate change and wildfires. Abbott said Christiana Figueres was “talking through her hat” during an interview with an Australian radio station on Wednesday. “Climate change is real, as I’ve often said, and we should take strong action against it,” Abbott said. “But these fires are certainly not a function of climate change — they’re just a function of life in Australia.”

Crews successfully contained a fire near the Blue Mountains town of Blackheath with aerial water bombs, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Meanwhile, an investigation has revealed that explosive devices on a Defence Department range caused the state’s biggest fire, near Lithgow, the ABC reported.

Firefighters are carrying out controlled burns through the night to “get the upper hand” ahead of extreme weather forecast for next week, the Herald said.