Image: Smoke from fire
Paul Crock  /  AFP-Getty Images
Fire crews drive through smoke from backburning operations near Jamieson, Australia, on Tuesday.
updated 3/3/2009 4:44:39 PM ET 2009-03-03T21:44:39

New wildfires flared Tuesday, but thousands of firefighters managed to keep them within firebreaks despite strong winds and dry conditions in southern Australia following blazes that killed more than 200 people last month.

Wind gusts of up to 75 miles per hour blew in from the northwest around Victoria state.

"We've got through today, all things considered, very well indeed," Victoria Premier John Brumby said. "But we still have a very high risk period."

Officials had warned the gusty conditions posed a fire threat akin to Feb. 7, known as "Black Saturday," when at least 210 people were killed by fast-moving blazes.

More than 600 schools and child-care centers were closed Tuesday, as were 30 national parks where fires could still spring up. Some 5 million people were sent text messages on their mobile phones warning them of the dangerous conditions.

The Bureau of Meteorology said gusting winds were still expected through the night across Victoria, where several large fires have burned for weeks. The four main blazes, burning within firebreaks, have not threatened homes for days, and rain fell in some areas Tuesday.

Up to 5,000 firefighters and state emergency personnel, backed by hundreds of trucks and water-dumping helicopters, remained on high alert.

"The temperatures are milder than those on Black Saturday but those wind gusts may be stronger than what was experienced on that day," said James Todd, spokesman for the Department of Sustainability and Environment. "Winds are our main concern at the moment, coupled with the dry condition and the fact that the fires are burning in steep, difficult terrain."

Officials have urged residents to decide either to leave their homes before fire threatens or to prepare themselves to fight the fires.

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