Australia’s capital on fire alert as smoke and dust trigger health warnings

MELBOURNE/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s capital, Canberra, was on high alert on Sunday as bushfires burned nearby, while smoke and dust covered large parts of the country’s east, prompting warnings from health authorities.

Fire in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), home to the capital city, has spread to more than 55,000 hectares (136,000 acres), close to a quarter of the territory’s entire landmass.

Local fire authorities said cooler conditions would support containment efforts on Sunday but that residents should closely monitor any change in fire activity.

“There are still days, and possibly weeks, of firefighting ahead of us,” ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr told media on Sunday.

There were fears on Saturday that the blaze, fueled by temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), could reach Canberra’s southern suburbs, threatening homes and lives as they did in 2003 when fires destroyed almost 500 houses and led to four deaths.

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