March 18, 2018 / 7:56 PM / in 7 months

Australian wildfires destroy homes, kill cattle as hundreds of people flee

SYDNEY, March 19 (Reuters) - Australian authorities urged people to remain alert on Monday as wildfires that have destroyed homes, killed cattle and forced hundreds of residents to flee continued to burn out of control in the southeast of the country.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported as of Monday morning, but the bushfires have caused extensive damage in rural Victoria and New South Wales states.

The fires, believed to have been sparked by lightning on Saturday, were fanned by dry, hot winds as temperatures reached 41 C (106 F) throughout Sunday.

Emergency officials said conditions should ease on Monday but “watch and act” warnings remained in place for five locations.

Up to 35 homes and a school were destroyed in the small coastal town of Tathra in New South Wales, authorities said, where people fled to the beach to avoid the flames. Evacuation centres have been set up and several schools in affected areas were closed on Monday.

About 280 firefighters were battling the blazes while 22,000 homes were without power in the region after the high winds brought down trees, Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said late on Sunday.

In the northern city of Darwin, about 25,000 homes were also without power after a tropical cyclone felled trees. No deaths were reported.

Bushfires are a common and deadly threat in Australia’s hot, dry summers, fuelled by highly flammable eucalyptus trees.

In January, hundreds of holidaymakers had to be evacuated by boat from the beaches of the Royal National Park south of Sydney, when they became trapped by bushfires.

The 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria killed 173 people and injured more than 400. (Reporting by Jane Wardell; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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