Crews Fight to Control Australia Blazes

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Thousands of firefighters built fire breaks Thursday around blazes raging near a string of mountain villages in southern Australia.

In the capital, a 20-year-old man appeared in court charged with starting a blaze overnight. On Saturday, other fires started by lightning roared through eucalyptus forests and into Canberra, killing four people and destroying 530 homes.

Conditions were expected to worsen across eastern Australia on Friday and over the weekend, with forecasts calling for strong winds that could fan flames and 104-degree heat that would drain firefighters.

The funeral of the first victim from the Canberra firestorm was held Thursday. Hundreds of mourners turned out to bid farewell to 60-year-old Doug Fraser, who died trying to protect his home in the Canberra suburb of Duffy.

``He died knowing that all of his family was happy, healthy and expanding,'' his daughter Wendy said. ``His last 12 months were probably some of the best memories of his life.''

In Victoria state, residents of alpine villages Bright, Beechworth, Mitta Mitta and Dartmouth remained on high alert. Fires came within miles of their homes Wednesday before a wind change saved them from disaster.

Mike Leonard, a spokesman for the state's Department of Sustainability and Environment, said fire authorities were working with residents of the towns to ensure they are prepared to defend their homes.

``We will work on containment lines again today and tonight in preparation for what's going to be a fairly nasty day,'' Leonard said.

Firefighters in Tasmania and New South Wales states were also battling to control blazes.

Some 1,000 firefighters were at work building fire breaks Thursday in New South Wales, where at least 68 wildfires were burning.

Crews also were working on fires that have already burned tens of thousands of acres in the Kosciuszko National Park, about 280 miles southwest of Sydney.

Early Thursday, Dennis Michael Gray appeared in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court charged with intentionally lighting a fire during a fire ban. He was not required to enter a plea.

He was the second person in recent days to be charged with lighting fires in Canberra _ a 16-year-old boy appeared in court on Wednesday on five counts of arson.

Neither is blamed for starting the blazes that caused so much damage in the city _ those fires were sparked by lightning.

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