Oz Firefighters Face
700-kilometre Fire Front
Australian Broadcasting Network

Sydney is surrounded by a ring of fire today, as more than 100 fires continue burning across New South Wales.
The NSW Government has declared parts of Sydney's west, southern Sydney, the central coast, Illawarra, the north coast, central west and the Hunter as natural disaster areas.
Fire officers are battlin g a 700-kilometre fire front, concentrating their efforts on blazes burning in a 10-kilometre stretch from Campbelltown in Sydney's south-west through to the Royal National Park, in Sydney's south.
Firefighters are battling a blaze that has just crossed the Princes Highway between Heathcote and Waterfall into the Royal National Park.
People in the township of Waterfall and in camping grounds in the park were evacuated last night.
Emergency services are now worried about West Heathcote as gusts of south-westerly winds fan fingers of the fire towards homes.
Twenty tankers, along with 200 firefighters from Victoria have just arrived to help in the battle to save properties and establish containment lines.
More than 100 welfare workers have spent the night at the Wollongong Entertainment Centre, helping evacuees who were forced to leave their homes late yesterday afternoon.
Around 1,100 people were evacuated from their homes in the Helensburgh, Otford and Waterfall areas as fires advanced.
Mike Archer, from emergency headquarters in Wollongong, says buses are transporting many evacuees to the Campbelltown area this morning.
Relatives wanting information about evacuees shoould call 1 800 069 303.
Wind change
Firefighters fear a wind change could see the flank of the blazes become the fire fronts.
Around 4,000 firefighters are currently on the ground.
Authorities estimate that more than 80 properties have been destroyed in the greater Sydney area.
Fourteen homes have been destroyed in the Hawkesbury area, north of Sydney, and 20 properties have been ruined at Jervis Bay.
John Winter, from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, says the fires are considered the worst since 1994, when four lives were lost and 185 homes destroyed around Sydney.
"These are certainly beginning to be on par with '94," he said. "The key difference is so far we haven't had any loss of life.
"Given the sheer intensity of the fires, that's absolutely extraordinary."
New South Wales fire authorities believe arsonists are behind most of the bushfires causing havoc around Sydney and on the state's south coast.
Bushfire Commissioner Phil Koperburg is disgusted that apart from a lightning strike south-west of Sydney, most of the bushfires have been deliberately lit.
"We live in a part of the world where fires are much a part of life as summer time," Mr Koperburg said.
"It's bad enough when you have to contend with accidental fires, fires which are a result of lightning, as indeed at least one major fire was yesterday.
"Then to have the majority of fires lit by people for whom I can find no description, threatening the lives of literally hundreds of people and destroying the possessions of hundreds more, is a sad reflection on those sorts of people."
Relief fund
The Acting NSW Premier, Andrew Refshauge, says the Government has donated an opening $1 million to a Christmas 2001 Bush Fire Relief Appeal.
The fund is designed to help people who have unforeseen expenses not covered by insurance.
People willing to pledge a donation to the fund can call the Disaster Relief Centre on 9683 2388 to give their details.
Dr Refshauge will travel with Prime Minister John Howard to visit Warragamba and Silverdale in Sydney's west, which are among the worst-affected areas.
The South Australian Government is offering to provide hundreds of firefighters to help battle the blazes.
The offer involves 300 Country Fire Service volunteers, as well as more than 40 Metropolitan Fire Service firefighters and 25 CFS appliances.
The Tasmania Fire Service says it is also ready to help out.
© 2001 Australian Broadcasting Corporation
This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), AAP(International), APTN, Reuters, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.


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