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Huge Bushfires Threaten Sydney

January 7, 1994

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Thousands of people fled their homes in suburban Sydney today ahead of raging summer brushfires that have already consumed nearly 1 million acres.

″Whole suburbs are alight,″ said Alan Napier of the Bushfire Services Department. ″People are being evacuated all over the place. This is a huge disaster.″

Ambulance drivers reported some people were rescued from burning houses, but the number was not known. Three people were trapped on a rock ledge in a bushland park south of the city.

More than 130 firestorms - most believed set by arsonists - burned out of control today across New South Wales, the most populous state. The flames are being whipped by gusty winds and temperatures above 100 degrees.

Three people, including two firefighters, have died since Monday. Dozens of others have been treated for burns and smoke inhalation.

Firefighters have been ordered not to try to extinguish the fires but only to defend lives and property. Helicopters were used in some areas to dump water on high flames.

Whole streets were reported ablaze in some towns. Homes were burning near the cities of Wyong and the northern suburbs of Sydney after a huge inferno jumped a six-lane freeway and a river. Thousands of people were evacuated.

Exact damage and injury reports were not immediately available.

Smoke blocked out the setting sun over Sydney for a second day as fires ringed the city. New outbreaks were reported in the Blue Mountains to the west. Big blazes continued to grow to the south.

″Rarely do I use the word catastrophic but we are almost at catastrophic conditions now,″ Police Minister Terry Griffiths said. ″We’ve probably got several thousand houses at risk. ... In the next 72 hours if we only lose two or three thousand houses we’ll be doing very well.″

More than 980,000 acres of forest and grassland have burned since the fires began shortly after Christmas. More than 7,000 firefighters are fighting the blazes with help from the military.

Meterologists said hot, dry and windy summer weather will continue into the weekend.

Police suspect more than half the fires were deliberately set. The New South Wales government has posted a $68,000 reward for help in finding arsonists and banned the lighting of fires.

A 13-year-old boy goes to court next week on charges of setting fire to bushland in one Sydney suburb. A man was charged after he lit a barbecue in his backyard.

Update hourly