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Australian firefighters brace for worsening wildfire conditions

SYDNEY – Firefighters battling some of the most destructive wildfires to ever strike Australia’s most populous state were bracing today for worsening conditions, with higher temperatures and winds expected to intensify the danger in the coming days.

In the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, one of the worst-hit regions in fire-ravaged New South Wales state, 193 homes have been destroyed and another 109 damaged by the fire storm that peaked Thursday, the Rural Fire Service said.

A Blue Mountains hospital was evacuated on Saturday because of the wildfire threat. The 24 patients were transported to a Sydney hospital.

With 68 fires still burning – 22 of them out of control – and dangerous weather conditions forecast through Thursday, authorities were expecting the worst.

“I’m increasingly concerned about the potential for significant fire runs and consequential damage if the weather conditions materialize like they’re indicating they could over this week,” Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told Seven Network television.

A 63-year-old man died of a heart attack Thursday while protecting his home from fire at Lake Munmorah, north of Sydney, and at least five people – including three firefighters – have been treated in hospitals for burns and smoke inhalation, officials said.