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Bushfire threat still high as clean up begins in Australia

Bushfire threat still high as clean up begins in Australia

Sydney: Australians on Wednesday began sifting through the ashes of hundreds of bushfires that have ravaged the country, relieved that their worst fears were unrealised -- but wary of a long and brutal summer ahead.

Firefighters were still battling around 140 blazes across the country's eastern seaboard, but a respite from "catastrophic" weather conditions meant the danger from many fires was downgraded.

The northern state of Queensland remained on high alert, with residents on the north shore of popular holiday town Noosa told to "leave immediately" to avoid an "unpredictable" fire burning nearby.

Underscoring the risks to residents and emergency responders, a firefighting helicopter crashed during waterbombing operations in the state.

The pilot survived with "non-life-threatening injuries", a Queensland Ambulance Service spokesman told AFP.

In the worst-hit areas of New South Wales, cooler southerly winds eased conditions -- a stark contrast with the gale-force gusts and high temperatures that plagued firefighters for much of Tuesday.

In all, 50 homes were damaged or destroyed, and around 20 people were injured,but most populated areas were spared.

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