INTERNATIONAL NEWS - Dozens of bushfires raged out of control across eastern Australia on Friday, blocking escape routes for residents and shuttering the main highway linking major cities on the country's Pacific coast.
More than 90 blazes pockmarked the New South Wales countryside, 50 of them uncontained, tearing through tens of thousands of hectares.
"We are in uncharted territory," New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told public broadcaster ABC. "We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level."
Authorities said fires had breached containment lines and forced the closure of the Pacific Highway linking Sydney and Brisbane in two places.
Emergency warnings were introduced for 14 flashpoints, bringing warnings to evacuate immediately.
In some areas, residents were told to simply "seek shelter as it is too late to leave".
Local radio stopped normal programming and provided instructions about how to try to survive fires if trapped at home or in a vehicle.
A prolonged drought, strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures have conspired to make the landscape a tinderbox.
"It's a very dynamic, volatile and dangerous set of circumstances," said Fitzsimmons.
Bushfires are common in Australia, but the country is gearing up for busy bushfire season with record temperatures predicted for the summer months.