Bushfires ravage communities in SE Australia
Smoke and ash from wildfires burning across the state of New South Wales blankets the Sydney city skyline on October 17, 2013
Cooler temperatures and a drop in wind offered firefighters some relief overnight but about 100 fires were still raging across the state of New South Wales with a smoke haze hanging over Sydney.
NSW Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said that despite the cooler conditions the situation was still "very active, very dynamic, very dangerous".
"The situation is very subject to change," he told the Nine Network, adding that 50,000 hectares (120,000 acres) had been burnt out so far.
Five major blazes fanned by high, erratic winds in unseasonably warm 34 degree Celsius (93 Fahrenheit) weather ripped through communities in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney on Thursday with whole streets razed.
One fatality has been reported so far.
Hundreds of residents spent the night in evacuation centres and awoke Friday to confront the extent of the disaster.
Winmalee resident Jordie Cox said it had been a frightening experience.
"I've lived in Winmalee since I was four and my parents always said to us during fire season that our house would be safe because we were surrounded by other houses so others would have to burn down before it got to us," she told ABC television.
"But we were pretty much the last house standing -- all the houses around us burnt down."
Ron Fuller was one of those who lost his home in Winmalee, a town with a population of about 6,000 and located 80 kilometres (50 miles) inland from Sydney.
"We've had a number of fires through here before but this was an extraordinary fire. The speed was extraordinary, it just raced through this whole area, took out some houses, left other ones standing," he told the broadcaster.
In a tweet, the Rural Fire Service said crews would be assessing the damage across the state street by street during Friday.
"It appears there may be hundreds of homes destroyed," the service said.
"More properties have come under threat overnight, with further warnings issued. 100 fires across NSW, 36 uncontained."
NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell praised the response from fire crews, many of whom are volunteers who battled through the night.
"I think the planning, preparation and response has been some of the best we've seen," he said, calling the fires "some of the worst we have experienced around Sydney in living memory".
"We're in for a long, tough summer," he added.
Wildfires are common in Australia's summer months between December and February, and authorities are expecting a bad season this year due to low rainfall in the winter and forecasts of hot, dry weather ahead.
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