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Hot Time Down Under Australia sends in troops amid worst bushfires in 70 years

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12/09/2006 11:43 AM
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Hot Time Down Under Australia sends in troops amid worst bushfires in 70 years
Australia sends in troops amid worst bushfires in 70 years

SYDNEY, Dec 9 (AFP) Dec 09, 2006
Australia on Saturday mobilised the army as some of the worst bushfires in 70 years threatened homes and shrouded Victoria state in thick smoke that closed the airport and grounded firefighting aircraft.
Army personnel reinforced a battalion of some 4,000 firefighters, already bolsterd by crews from other states as well as New Zealand, who fought 14 major fires which had so far ravaged at least 180,000 hectares (445,000 acres) of the parched region.

Authorities feared the scale of the devastation could balloon to 600,000 hectares in coming days.

Firefighters frantically dug containment lines and helped prepare residents in towns directly under threat.

A hostpital was evacuated and the Red Cross urged residents in vulnerable townships to leave their properties and register at relief centres.

While temperatures did not rise above an expected 40 degrees, authorities predicted there would be no reprieve in conditions before Monday, with rising winds expected to worsen the situation Sunday.

A thick pall of smoke cloaking much of the state prompted a rush of calls to the main emergency phone line, grounded firefighting aircraft, and delayed flights in and out of Melbourne airport.

Authorities said that even if they could contain the fires soon, it would be months before they could put them out.

The sheer magnitude of the bushfire emergency, not seen since the state's "Black Friday" catastrophe of 1939 which left 71 people dead, prompted the federal government to consider the emergency from a national perspective and offer extra assistance. [link to www.terradaily.com]