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Australia fires: Victoria extends 'state of disaster' as threat intensifies

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The Australian state of Victoria has again declared a state of disaster ahead of forecast "dangerous, dynamic" conditions in a massive bushfire zone. Despite a national bushfire crisis raging since September, the south-eastern state is only entering what is considered to be its worst fire months. Blazes have already burnt 1.2 million hectares in Victoria and claimed three lives. Nationally, 27 people have died. The danger is predicted to be greatest on Friday due to hot, volatile weather.
"I know we have not seen this much fire activity this early in the season," state Premier Daniel Andrews said on Thursday.  "But I also make the point: I don't think we've seen as co-ordinated, as effective a response to that unprecedented fire activity as we have seen in these last few weeks." There are also warnings for South Australia and New South Wales (NSW), where fires continue to endanger lives and homes.

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What's the situation in Victoria?

Authorities have urged people to leave the state's Alpine and eastern regions, including fire-ravaged East Gippsland, ahead of Friday. Temperatures are forecast to climb as high as 41C and be accompanied by dangerous winds and dry lightning - storms without rain. This will exacerbate fires and possibly ignite new ones, officials say. It is also feared a large fire could merge with another in neighbouring NSW to create a "mega blaze".

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How about elsewhere?

In South Australia, authorities called for evacuations in Vivonne Bay - a town on Kangaroo Island - as a blaze continued to burn out of control. Two people and an estimated 25,000 koalas were killed when flames devastated Kangaroo Island last week. The island is renowned for its unique mix of animal species. On Thursday a wildlife park came under threat with a blaze breaking containment lines and closing in. The Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park has more than 600 animals in its care and has taken in many koalas injured in the past weeks' fires on the popular tourist island. According to local media, some park staff are not evacuating, despite warnings, and hope they will be able to protect the animals.

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In worst-hit NSW, officials said almost 1,900 homes had been destroyed this fire season - adding to more than 300 razed in other states. NSW is also facing elevated danger on Friday. An emergency warning was also issued in Western Australia on Thursday for several suburbs in the south of Perth. Residents were told they "are in danger and need to act immediately to survive". According to the ABC, the fire is moving north-east and is being fought with at least three water bombers.