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Australia Bushfires: State of Emergency Declared for Canberra Region

Australian officials on Friday declared a state of emergency in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), including for the national capital of Canberra, as a large bushfire threatens to become uncontrollable amid high temperatures and strong winds.

The state of emergency declared on Friday will run for 72 hours, giving authorities greater powers to order evacuations, closed roads and take control of the private property. Australia’s federal parliament is located in Canberra, which is also home to several government and independent institutions as well as national museums.

The alert was issued as strong winds threatened to propel large bushfires beyond the control of firefighters, officials said on Friday. It is the most noticeably awful fire risk to the domain in about two decades, authorities said. Soaring temperatures and strong winds threatened to propel a large fire beyond the control of firefighters near Canberra.

Residents in the suburbs of Canberra have been urged to “remain alert” for potential evacuations. Authorities said there’s now no higher priority for the ACT government at this time than the bushfire threat.

Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the fire burning in the Namadgi National Park presented the worst bushfire threat the territory has faced since devastating fires in 2003 that destroyed almost 500 homes and killed four.

Officials said an uncontrolled fire in the ACT’s south, on the doorstep of Canberra, had grown to 185 sq km, almost 8 percent of the territory’s landmass. Heatwave conditions are also expected to sweep through Victoria and New South Wales states over the weekend, where some 80 fires are burning.

Bushfires raging in Australia have also caused considerable damage in New South Wales, the state that surrounds the capital territory, leading to a significant loss of property and more than two dozen deaths in the state alone.

Canberra has been inundated with heavy smoke from surrounding bushfires for months. However, this is the first time this summer that the territory has faced an emergency-level fire threat. The main threat comes from the Orroral Valley fire, which has burned around 45,000 acres of mostly remote bushland.

In neighbouring New Zealand, where smoke from the Australian blazes has turned glaciers brown, firefighters were battling to contain around 25 fires that spread rapidly to cover around 247 acres on the South Island. Heatwave conditions were also forecast for much of the country over the weekend.

Australia has been battling bushfires across its east coast that have killed 33 people and an estimated 1 billion native animals since September. Around 2,500 homes have been destroyed as more than 117,000 sq km have been razed.

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