SYDNEY — Firefighters battled scores of wildfires raging across southeast Australia on Tuesday with officials evacuating national parks and warning that blistering temperatures and high winds had led to "catastrophic" fire conditions in some areas.
Thousands of firefighters were on standby across the nation's most populous state of New South Wales, where fire authorities said wildfire conditions were at catastrophic threat levels – the most severe rating available – in parts of the state. All state forests and national parks were closed as a precaution and total fire bans were in place with temperatures expected to reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in some areas.
"We are shaping up for one of the worst fire danger days on record," New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. "You don't get conditions worse than this. We are at the catastrophic level and clearly in those areas leaving early is your safest option."
No deaths had been reported, although officials in Tasmania were still trying to find around 100 residents who have been missing since a fire tore through the small town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart, last week, destroying around 90 homes. On Tuesday, police said no bodies were found during preliminary checks of the ruined houses.
Wildfires have razed 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of forests and farmland across southern Tasmania since Friday.
More than 100 fires were blazing across New South Wales on Tuesday, though only a handful of homes were under threat as of early afternoon. Officials were bracing for winds up to 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour) later in the day that could fan the flames in unpredictable directions.
One volunteer firefighter suffered severe burns to his hands and face while fighting a grass fire near Gundaroo village, about 220 kilometers (138 miles) southwest of Sydney, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said Monday. He was flown to a hospital in Sydney for treatment.
Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. In February 2009, hundreds of fires across Victoria state killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.