Two people have died and more than 30 are injured as wildfires rage across the east coast of Australia.
Several people are missing and more than 100 homes have been destroyed by the blazes, which have killed around 350 koala bears in the town of Port Macquarie in New South Wales.
Around 1, 500 firefighters have been battling 70 fires across the state which is most the populous in Australia, with strong winds and erratic behavior reported to be hampering their efforts.
Thousands of people were forced to flee their homes on Friday when 17 fires were burning at emergency warning levels, the most extreme danger rating, and more than 50 smaller blazes were also burning out of control,
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the most intense fires have been seen in the northeast of New South Wales, where flames have been fanned by strong winds.
He added that firefighters found a body in a burned car near Glen Innes on Saturday.
Mr Fitzsimmons said a woman who was found unconscious and with serious burns near the town on Friday had earlier died in hospital.
Another seven people have been reported missing in the vicinity of the same fire.
More than 30 people including firefighters have received medical treatment for burns and one patient had
Mr Fitzsimmons said: “We are in uncharted territory … we’ve never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level.
“It is a very volatile and very dangerous set of circumstances that we are experiencing right across these fire grounds in New South Wales.”
He added: “We are expecting that number ( of missing persons) to climb today.
“There are really grave concerns that there could be more losses or indeed more fatalities.”
Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison said the country should expect “worse news” as the fires continue on Saturday.
He added: “The devastating and horrific fires that we’ve seen, particularly in New South Wales, but also in Queensland, have been absolutely chilling. “
Mr Morrison continued:” These fires have already claimed two lives that have been confirmed and as the premier said, we’re expecting worse news as the day unfolds.
“There have been hundreds of properties that have been destroyed, homes that have been destroyed, and as we get to access to further areas that have been cut off we’re expecting worse news again. “
Mr Fitzsimmons said at least 100 homes were estimated to have been destroyed since Friday, but that damage toll could rise significantly as firefighters were able to extinguish flames and access fire zones.
Hundreds of people evacuated their homes along a (mile) 500 km) area stretching from Queensland south to the town of Forster in New South Wales.
Many spent the night in evacuation centers while some slept in cars.
More than half of the 500 to 600 koalas living on a coastal reserve in Port Macquarie were killed in the fires, according to Koala Conversation Australia.
Animal carers at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, where injured koalas are being nursed, believe it will take at least (days to assess the full damage to the koala population.)
The fires have come as part of one of Australia’s worst bushfire seasons, with a record number of emergency warnings and firefighters battling dozens of blazes.
The fire danger reached unprecedented levels in New South Wales on Friday, when 17 blazes were burning at the emergency warning level.
Only two fires were burning at the highest danger rating by Saturday.
Less destructive fires were blazing in other Australian states.
In Queensland, where emergencies had been declared for three fires early on Friday evening, around 6, 500 people in several towns including Cooroibah and Tewantin, were told to leave by the state’s fire and emergency services.
More than 50 fires in all were burning in the state to the north of New South Wales.
People living in parts of the Sunshine Coast and further inland were told to leave their homes as the danger spread towards suburban Brisbane with a number of homes there under threat on Friday afternoon.
The annual Australian fire season which peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer has started early after an unusually warm and dry winter.
Mr Fitzsimmons said little reprieve in fire conditions could be expected over the next week or throughout the summer months of December, January and February.
He continued: “The forecast for the balance of the season continues to be driven by above-normal temperatures (and) below-average rainfall to dominate over the coming months.”
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