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Wildfires rage across Australia amid searing heat

By The Associated Press

This article was published January 8, 2013 at 9:17 a.m.

wildfire-smoke-rises-from-hills-near-the-village-of-numeralla-in-new-south-wales-state-on-tuesday-jan-8-2013-wildfires-raged-across-much-of-southeast-australia

Wildfire smoke rises from hills near the village of Numeralla in New South Wales state on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. Wildfires raged across much of southeast Australia.

— Firefighters battled scores of wildfires Tuesday in southeast Australia as authorities evacuated national parks and warned that hot, dry and windy conditions were combining to raise the threat to its highest alert level.

Temperatures soared to 113 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas.

No deaths have been reported, although officials in Tasmania were still trying to find about 100 people who have been missing since last week when a fire tore through the small town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart, destroying about 90 homes. On Tuesday, police found no bodies during preliminary checks of the ruined houses.

“You don’t get conditions worse than this,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. “We are at the catastrophic level and clearly in those areas leaving early is your safest option.”

Catastrophic threat level is the most severe rating.

Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. The combination of soaring temperatures and dry, windy conditions since Friday have sparked fires that burned 50,000 acres of forests and farmland across southern Tasmania.

In New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, the fires scorched more than 74,000 acres.

Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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