Schools close as Australia braces for resurgent wildfires | world | Hindustan Times
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Schools close as Australia braces for resurgent wildfires

world Updated: Feb 26, 2009 23:11 IST

Hundreds of Australian schools and childcare centres will be closed on Friday because of a resurgent threat from wildfires that have already killed more than 200 people, officials said.

Thousands of children will be affected by the closures in southeast Victoria state, which is bracing itself for a deadly combination of searing temperatures, strong winds, and tinder-dry countryside.

Nearly 200 government schools and 146 children’s centres will be closed as a precaution because fire authorities have warned of “extremely difficult weather conditions,” Victorian Education Minister Bronwyn Pike said.

Temperatures of 39 degrees Celsius are expected across the state on Friday, raising fears that the heat and wind will stoke five major fires still burning or that lightning will start new ones.

Three schools burnt down on “Black Saturday” —February 7 — when temperatures of up to 46 C combined with high winds to raze more than 2,000 houses and kill a total of 210 people. “This certainly is an extreme set of circumstances. We’ve got a tinder-dry environment and existing fires. The risk is very great on Friday,” Pike said.

On Thursday, a heavy pall of smoke drifted across the eastern suburbs of the capital Melbourne as more than 3,000 firefighters worked on building defences against Friday’s feared conflagration.

The authorities warned residents threatened by the fires to decide early whether to leave their homes or stay and try to defend them.