Four homes razed as Australian crews battle bushfires

Four homes razed as Australian crews battle bushfires
A file picture taken on October 24, 2013 shows a firefighter getting ready to handle bushfire near Faulconbridge in the Blue Mountains.

MELBOURNE - Four homes were destroyed as Australian firefighters struggled to bring three major blazes under control in Victoria state, with high temperatures and gusty winds threatening to worsen conditions Thursday.

Lightning strikes this week ignited 350 fires with several becoming significant, according to authorities.

Some 500 firefighters are tackling the outbreaks with nearly 10,000 hectares razed.

Two fires in Victoria's northeast - at Lake Rowan-Warbys some 20 km northwest of the regional city of Wangaratta and Creightons Creek-Longwood just south of Euroa - have been burning for several days and remain out of control.

"There have been four confirmed house losses but we're still assessing the extent of the impact on agriculture," Victoria's Country Fire Authority spokesman Lee Miezis told AFP.

"We do understand that one farmer has lost about a thousand head of stock, so it's quite a significant impact on stock."

Officials also issued a warning for communities around Mia Mia, Meadow Valley and Glenhope in central Victoria as a fast-moving grassfire moved across the region.

The weather conditions were set to remain challenging ahead of a forecast drop in the temperature later Thursday.

"Temperatures are in the low 30s (degree Celsius) and the winds will be up this afternoon," Victorian Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said.

"But they are certainly not going to return to the conditions of Tuesday, so we are not seeing gale-force winds but the winds will challenge some of the fires."

The blazes in the northeast of the state were also burning in "quite scrubby, rocky, steep country", making it difficult for crews to put in control lines, Miezis added.

Control lines involve removing vegetation that fuels fires, using equipment such as bulldozers or rakes.

Backburning, a tactic aimed at managing the path of a fire by starting a controlled new blaze in the opposite direction, is also used.

Miezis said southeastern Australia looked set to experience an above-normal fire season after an unseasonably dry spring.

"With that dryness, we've had quite a lot of vegetation dry and there's no real moisture in the soil," he said.

"In simple terms - a long, hot summer and probably about 12 weeks of increased fire danger."

Wildfires are common in Australia's summer months between December and February.

"Black Saturday", the worst firestorm in recent years, devastated southern Victoria in 2009 as it razed thousands of homes and killed 173 people.

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