Wildfires Erupt Around Sydney, Australia

At least 60 fires threaten hundreds of homes.


SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Hundreds of firefighters battled into the night Wednesday as fires raged through suburban bush land on the outskirts of Sydney, destroying at least 20 homes.

Strong, hot winds blowing out of the drought-stricken Outback west of Sydney were forecast to continue Thursday, and Australia's most populous city braced for more devastation.

``All of the fires at the moment have got the potential to endanger property,'' said New South Wales state Rural Fire Service superintendent John Hojel.

Late Wednesday afternoon 1,100 firefighters were battling 39 fires around the state. Three firefighters were injured.

Most of the fires erupted mid-afternoon Wednesday, with the worst blazes in Sydney's northwestern suburb of Glenorie, and in Wattle Grove and Heathcote in the southwest.

Several homes were destroyed by flames leaping 200 feet in the air and causing oil-filled eucalyptus trees to explode, said service spokesman John Winter.

Flames engulfed 15 homes in Glenorie and five others near Nowra, 75 miles south of the city. At least one home was destroyed in Wattle Grove.

About 200 school children were evacuated from a camp site in northern Sydney as flames approached. None was injured. Hundreds more people across the city fled their homes.

In at least one suburb, residents formed a bucket brigade to fight the flames.

One man said he was hosing down his home in southern Sydney when he saw flames spread to leaves on the roof of a neighbor's house.

``I jumped up onto the roof and I had a stick, got all the flames out as much as I could,'' said the man, Greg Young. ``While that was happening all the neighbors grabbed buckets of water because he didn't have a hose and they were throwing water all over it.''

Dozens of fire crews, many of them volunteers, spread across Sydney. Some water-dumping helicopters and planes took off, while others were grounded by high winds.

There was no immediate word on how so many fires started in such a short time. Emergency services believed some could have been set.

``We've really got to attribute these fires to some sort of human action ... whether that be deliberate or accidental,'' said Winter.

Temperatures Wednesday afternoon reached 97 degrees in western Sydney and the city of 4 million is experiencing one of the worst droughts in memory _ factors that made firefighting nearly impossible.

A year ago, fires _ many deliberately lit by children on school vacation _ ringed Sydney over Christmas, destroying dozens of homes. No people were injured, but thousands of animals, such as koalas, were injured or killed.