Australia's capital braces as hot, windy conditions fuel nearby fires

By Will Ziebell

MELBOURNE, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Authorities warned residents of Australia's capital, Canberra, to be wary of fire and ember attacks on Saturday as soaring temperatures and strong winds stoked unpredictable blazes near suburban areas.

Temperatures are forecast to reach 41 Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) on Saturday, fuelling an out-of-control bushfire in the south of the Australian Capital Territory that has already grown to more than 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) in size.

"Today's extreme heat ... dry conditions and a severe fire danger rating means we can expect another very challenging firefighting day," the ACT's Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said in a televised briefing in Canberra.

"The conditions will potentially become more dangerous and the fire may pose a threat to lives directly in its path," said Whelan.

A state of emergency in the ACT was declared on Friday which is expected to last through the weekend. It is the area's first since 2003 when four people were killed and almost 500 homes destroyed in wildfires.

In neighboring New South Wales, the Rural Fire Service said 60 wildfires were burning early on Saturday, with close to a third uncontained. Authorities have issued widespread warnings for across the state's south.

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Australia's devastating and prolonged bushfire season has killed 33 people and an estimated 1 billion native animals since September. About 2,500 homes have been destroyed and more than 11.7 million hectares (117,000 sq km) of tinder-dry bushland have been razed.

Main events on Saturday in the bushfire crisis:

* Fire activity is increasing in parts of Australia's Snowy Mountains, an alpine region where an air tanker crashed on Jan. 22 killing three American firefighters.

* Temperatures in Sydney's west are forecast to hit 46 Celsius (114.8°F) on Saturday.

*In the state of Victoria where 25 fires are active, the state's emergency service issued a severe weather warning for thunderstorms that could bring intense rainfall and flash flooding to parts of the state. (Reporting by Will Ziebell in Melbourne; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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