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Tourists, firefighters flee as new heatwave fans Australia blazes

Sydney: Tourists and firefighters were forced to flee vast fires burning in southeastern Australia on Monday, as a heatwave rekindled devastating bush blazes across the country.

Authorities said "quite a number" of the 30,000 tourists visiting the usually picturesque southeast tip of the continent had heeded calls to evacuate.

More than a dozen blazes are raging in the East Gippsland countryside, some so intensely that hundreds of firefighters were pulled back beyond a firefront estimated to stretch 1,000 kms (600 miles). It was deemed "unsafe" for them to remain in bushland areas, Gippsland fire incident controller Ben Rankin said. It is the latest emergency in Australia's devastating summer fire season, which has been turbocharged by a prolonged drought and climate change.

10 people have been killed, more than 1,000 homes destroyed and more than three million hectares (7.4 mn acres) -- an area bigger than Belgium -- have been scorched.

Conditions worsened on Friday with high winds and temperatures soaring across the country -- reaching 47 degrees Celsius (116 Fahrenheit) in Western Australia, but topping 40 degrees in every region -- including the usually temperate island of Tasmania.

The situation was intense said Rankin, warning that conditions would worsen later in the day before temperatures drop markedly overnight.

Authorities had warned tourists enjoying Australia's summer holidays in East Gippsland that the fires would cut off the last major road still open.

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