Plane fighting Australia fires crashes as cooler weather eases threat


SYDNEY, Oct 24 (Reuters) - A plane dousing wildfires inbushland around the Australia's biggest city, Sydney, crashedinto a national park on Thursday, sparking a new fire to add to55 still burning across the state of New South Wales.

The accident happened as the immediate threat from the fireseased thanks to cooler weather, but the Rural Fire Service (RFS)warned of hot and dry weather ahead as summer hits its peak.

"It's hard to definitely say that (the worst is over) atthis stage," said RFS spokeswoman Natalie Sanders. "We have gotcooler temperatures today and the winds are slightly lower butwith these fires still going, it's hard to say how long they'llgo for and whether there will be any further damage."

More than 200 homes have been destroyed in New South Walessince last Thursday, when fires tore through Sydney's outskirts,razing entire streets. One man died from a heart attack whiletrying to save his home.

The RFS said it held "grave concerns" for the pilot of awater bomber fixed-wing aircraft that crashed in the BudawangNational Park, 270 km (170 miles) southwest of Sydney, awilderness area of steep mountainsides and forests popular withhikers and campers.

Sanders said 20 of the 55 fires still burning on Thursdayhad yet to be contained by firefighters, who fear strong windsmay see three major fires in the Blue Mountains commuterdistrict west of Sydney join up in coming days, creating onemassive wildfire.

The fires have so far burned through more than 120,000hectares (300,000 acres) and have a perimeter of some 1,600 km(990 miles).

Police have arrested several children suspected of startingfires. Other fires were sparked by power lines arcing in strongwinds, according to the RFS.

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