SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Wildfires have forced nearly 3,000 people from their homes in southeastern Australia, menacing the suburbs of Sydney and blanketing the city with a haze Wednesday.
The number of fires jumped to 100 from about 70 on Christmas Day, fanned by 35 mph winds. Fire officials say many were caused by lightning but suspect seven were deliberately set.
The fires have destroyed homes, isolated towns and cut highways and rail links across New South Wales state and around Sydney. Ambulance crews have treated hundreds of firefighters and residents for respiratory problems.
About 5,000 firefighters are battling the flames, many of them for a fifth straight day.
The first blazes started in rural areas amid sweltering summer temperatures. Winds gusting up to 55 mph and 95-degree temperatures on Christmas Day left fire crews helpless to contain the flames.
"We have never seen anything like that before," said the state fire chief, Phil Koperberg.
Thousands of properties have been threatened and 140 destroyed.
A grimy yellow haze hung over Sydney.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.