Firefighters battling some of the most destructive wildfires to ever strike Australia's most populous state are bracing 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 last Thursday.
The damage toll announced yesterday was more than double the count from the previous day and was expected to continue to rise as assessment teams and police move deeper into the destruction zone in search of survivors and victims.
Homes have been reported destroyed in other regions, but numbers were not yet available.
With 68 fires still burning - 22 of them out of control - and dangerous weather conditions forecast through Thursday, authorities were expecting the worst.
"We could see some very, very dire conditions ranging right across the Blue Mountains," said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.
"The reason we are particularly concerned is that we went into last Thursday with not too much fire. We're going into some bad weather now with lots of fire and literally 500 kilometres (310 miles) of fire edge that needs to be dealt with, and that will present serious issues should we see that hot, dry, windy weather which is likely towards the middle of the week," he said.
A 63-year-old man died of a heart attack last Thursday while protecting his home from fire at Lake Munmorah, north of Sydney, and at least five people - including three fire-fighters - have been treated in hospitals for burns and smoke inhalation, officials said.