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Wildfires, aided by hot conditions, rage across southeast Australia

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More than 130 fires were blazing across New South Wales, though only a few dozen houses were threatened as night fell. One home was destroyed in the village of Jugiong, northwest of the capital of Canberra, fire officials said.

A fire was burning near about 30 homes near the small town of Cooma, south of Canberra. Cooma-Monaro shire Mayor Dean Lynch told Australia's Sky News some residents had evacuated to the nearby town of Nimmitabel.

Wind gusts of more than 62 mph were recorded in some parts of the state, although a cool front moving across the region late Tuesday brought some relief and raised hopes that New South Wales might avoid major damage.

"If we get through today without loss of life and loss of property, we'll have had a remarkable escape from what could have been," New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell told the Seven Network.

Many residents in the town of Tarcutta, 120 miles west of Canberra, took shelter at a community center. Eva Toth, owner of the Tarcutta Halfway Motor Inn, opted instead to hunker down inside the office for a sleepless night next to her motel. She was ready to jump in her car if word came that the flames were close.

"The wind is just unbelievable. It just suddenly comes like a whirly, twirly tornado," she said by telephone. "To live this is really frightening. When you walk into my place, you can smell the smoke even in my house."

One volunteer firefighter suffered severe burns to his hands and face while fighting a grass fire near Gundaroo village, 138 miles southwest of Sydney, on Monday. He was flown to a hospital in Sydney for treatment.

Fitzsimmons, the fire commissioner, said the firefighter's condition had improved Tuesday and he should be released from the hospital in the next few days.

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