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Australian state declares wildfire emergency as homes burn

SYDNEY — Australia’s most populous state declared a wildfire emergency as rising temperatures and strengthening winds intensified flames that have destroyed more than 200 properties across New South Wales.

State Premier Barry O’Farrell signed the order late Sunday after consulting with the police minister and appointed the Rural Fire Service commissioner to control and coordinate the emergency.

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‘‘This is not an action taken lightly,’’ O’Farrell said. ‘‘But it’s important the Rural Fire Service and other emergency services have the powers and the resources they need to combat this threat.’’

Firefighters battling 56 blazes, including 12 that are uncontained, are bracing for more wild weather across the state. Australia’s bush-fire season has started early after the warmest September on record, and the intensified warnings reflect receding chances of rain to douse flames engulfing swathes of the Blue Mountains region about 50 miles west of Sydney.

Conditions will be at their worst on Wednesday and two of the three main fires in the Blue Mountains have the potential to merge, Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters.

A 63-year-old man died protecting his home from a fire at Lake Munmorah on the New South Wales coast on Thursday, according to police.

The fires have destroyed 208 properties and damaged 122 others, the fire service said.

A hospital in the Blue Mountains town of Springwood was evacuated two days ago, with 24 patients transferred to the city.

More than 2,000 firefighters, including about 200 from other states, are battling the blazes.

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