Australia fires: State of emergency declared for Canberra

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Authorities in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) have declared a state of emergency as massive bushfires rage south of Canberra.

It is the worst fire threat to the territory in nearly two decades, officials said.

The main blaze, in the territory’s south, is burning over more than 18,500 hectares.

Residents in suburbs of Canberra have been urged to “remain alert” for potential evacuations.

“The ACT is now facing the worst bushfire threat since the devastating fires of 2003,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr told reporters on Friday.

“There’s now no higher priority for the ACT government at this time than the bushfire threat.”

The small territory, located between Sydney and Melbourne, has about 400,000 residents.

Mr Barr said the worst blaze was just south of the district of Tuggeranong, a 20-minute drive south of Parliament House in Canberra.

On Friday, firefighters were battling 40C temperatures, strong winds and a tinder-dry landscape. The fires “may become uncontrollable”, Mr Barr said.

He added the state of emergency – which gives extra power and resources to fire authorities – would be in place for “as long as Canberra is at risk”.

Fires have raged near the city for weeks. Last Thursday, Canberra’s airport was shut down when a blaze threatened to breach its perimeter.

Three US firefighters died on the same day after their aircraft crashed over a fire zone near the city, in the Snowy Mountains region.

Since September, bushfires in Australia have killed at least 33 people and destroyed thousands of homes. More than 11 million hectares of land has been scorched.