Australian volunteer firefighters kept busy on New Year's Day

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Sunday, January 1, 2006 A massive bushfire that was threatening West Victorian towns of Great Western, Armstrong, Moyston, Pomonal, Halls Gap and Ararat has stopped spreading due to heavy rainfall giving firefighters their first relief in two days. Meanwhile, two major fires have broken out on the New South Wales Central Coast, North of Sydney with another in Sydney.

The Victorian fire has destroyed 5 homes in the Stawell and two people have been injured when they fell down a mineshaft while fighting the blaze. Reports claim that the fire front was up to 30Km in length. Earlier today the fire was burning out of control, being fanned by strong winds. This afternoon a weather change came, dumping heavy rain over the region.

Five major fires have been reported on the NSW Central coast in the Woy Woy and Mount White regions. 50 homes are believed to be under direct threat. Residents in affected parts of Woy Woy, Umina and Pearl beaches, and Patonga, have been taken to makeshift evacuation centres at the Gosford Leagues Club and Woy Woy Bowling Club.

The Sydney Newcastle (F3 freeway) and Pacific Highway have been closed. Motorists which had been standed on the southbound carriageway of the F3 freeway were allowed through at around 6PM AEDT following fears of a wind change which could have put them in danger of the fire. Police say that the backlog was let through and the freeway remains closed.

Intercity train services North of Sydney have also been affected with the railway line closed at Berowra.

Dozens of fire crews and four water bombing aircraft were battling the blazes, according to bushfire volunteer Michael Wood, with changeable wind conditions starting spot fires nearby. Strong north-westerly wind gusts and temperatures of up to 44 degrees posed extremely dangerous fire conditions, the Rural Fire Service said.

The Woy Woy fire front was expected to make a run to Umina and Pearl Beach in the coming hours. 300 firefighters are working to contain the flames.

Cameron Wade, a spokesman for the NSW Rural Fire Service said firefighters were battling flames up to 30 metres in height, destroying several homes. A Fire Station near Woy Woy was also destroyed along with several fire trucks and volunteers cars.

Mr Wade also said that crews were being called in from Sydney and the Hunter to assist local fire crews. Six aircraft and a sky crane are also being used.

It is believed that winds in the Central Coast region are gusting at up to 60 km/h.

Another fire in the Sydney suburb of Belrose is expected to cause problems in the next few hours.

In Merimbula, on the NSW far south coast residents are being evacuated, after a fire broke containment lines.

Phill Koperberg, Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service said there were fires concern at Junee and Cootamundra in southern NSW and at Appin and Bulli south of Sydney.

According to an RFS spokesman, a house in Junee was destoyed and a farmer was hospitalised after receiving burns to 60 percent of his body. A total of five homes in the Junee area have been confirmed lost.

About 100 people have been evacuated from Junee's outskirts amid fears that southerly winds could reach 100 kph, drastically worsening the fire situation.

Three homes on the Central Coast and three in Junee have been lost.

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