SYDNEY - Australian fire crews stepped up containment efforts around several major wildfires Sunday with the weather forecast to deteriorate and officials warning of "unparalleled" danger from the worst conditions in 40 years.
More than 200 homes have already been destroyed and another 120 damaged by the wildfires which broke out across New South Wales state in unseasonably warm and dry weather earlier this week, fanned by extremely high winds.
The worst of the fires, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, plunged the city into an eerie midday darkness as plumes of smoke and ash filled the sky. One man has died so far trying to protect his property.
Firefighters had a reprieve on Friday and Saturday with an easing in the weather, but containment and property protection efforts were ramped up on Sunday ahead of a forecast deterioration in conditions set to include warmer temperatures and 100kph winds.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said there would be several extremely difficult days ahead for fire crews, with conditions unprecedented in their danger to property and life.
"We've got what would be unparalleled in terms of risk and exposure for the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury communities throughout this week," Fitzsimmons told reporters.
"If you are to draw a parallel, and it's always dangerous to draw a parallel, at best you'd be going back to time periods in the late 60s."
"The reality is, however, these conditions that we're looking at are a whole new ball-game and in a league of their own.