Thousands of people fled their homes and helicopters dropped supplies to towns at risk of nearby wildfires as hot, windy conditions Friday threatened already fire-ravaged southeastern Australian communities. The danger is centered on New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s most populous states, where temperatures and wind speeds are escalating after a few days of relatively benign conditions, the AP reports. The BBC reports that two out-of-control bushfires are expected to merge into a "megablaze" near the border of the two states late Friday. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service warns that coastal towns south of Sydney including Eden, Batemans Bay, and Nowra could again be under threat weeks after losing homes to the fires.
The unprecedented fire crisis in southeast Australia has claimed at least 26 lives, destroyed more than 2,000 homes, and scorched an area twice the size of Maryland since September. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Australian military was on standby to help firefighters and emergency agencies. "I've given them very clear instructions that they are to stand ready to move and support immediately," Morrison said Friday. "In the event that they are needed in the wake of what we hope we will not see today, but we must prepare for today." The conservation group WWF-Australia estimates that 1.25 billion wild animals have died during the current fire crisis in addition to livestock losses, which the government expects will exceed 100,000 animals.
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