Australia crews battle to contain wildfires

Australia crews battle to contain wildfires

SYDNEY - Firefighters were racing to tame an enormous blaze in southeastern Australia Monday with officials warning it could merge with others to create a "mega-fire" as weather conditions worsen.

Crews have been battling fires that flared in high winds and searing heat across the state of New South Wales last week with more than 200 homes so far destroyed and many others damaged.

While dozens of fires have been contained, 56 were still alight and 12 of them out of control, enveloping Sydney in a thick white smoke haze.

The main concern Monday was near the town of Lithgow west of Sydney where a huge fire that has already burned nearly 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres) was threatening the communities of Bilpin, Bell, Clarence and Dargan.

Officials fear intensifying heat and winds on Tuesday and Wednesday could push it into another blaze at nearby Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains and then move towards the populated areas of Katoomba and Leura.

"I don't think I've ever used the word mega-fire," said Fitzsimmons.

"But the reality is that the modelling indicates that there's every likelihood that in the forecast weather conditions that these two fires, particularly up in the back end of the mountains, will merge at some point."

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