Australia

Queensland bushfires: Thousands told to flee 'catastrophic' threat

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Media captionMore than 130 bush fires are burning across Queensland, officials say

Thousands of Australians have been told to evacuate their homes as powerful bushfires threaten properties in Queensland.

The state's fire danger warning has been raised to "catastrophic" - the highest level - for the first time.

More than 130 bushfires are burning across Queensland, fuelled by strong winds, a heatwave and dry vegetation.

The worst threat is from a fast-moving bushfire near the town of Gracemere, said Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

"We have never, ever in this state been in this situation before," she told reporters late on Wednesday.

"We have not had a catastrophic level. This is uncharted waters."

Authorities have ordered about 8,000 people in the town and its surrounding areas to evacuate immediately.

Many have sought refuge in the nearby city of Rockhampton.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption More than 130 bushfires are burning across the region
Image copyright EPA
Image caption The heatwave that helped spark the fires is expected to continue into next week

Several properties are reported to have been destroyed since the fires began burning across the weekend, and dozens of schools have been closed.

Firefighters have been dispatched from across Australia to help.

Unlike in Australia's drier south, intense fire conditions are unusual in central Queensland in late November because it is the wet season.

The region has been experiencing a record-breaking heatwave, with temperatures soaring above 40C (104F) in places.

Officials say the unusually high temperatures and low humidity levels have hindered attempts to extinguish the bushfires.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll has warned other fires may be likely to flare up quickly.

"The situation is evolving very, very quickly, you may only have minutes, up to 20 minutes and even less to move when we give you the order to leave," she said.

Bushfires also damaged parts of neighbouring New South Wales last week.

Further south, Sydney is currently experiencing flash-flooding after its monthly rainfall fell in just two hours on Wednesday, according to meteorologists.

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