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Wildfires in eastern Australia pose an 'unprecedented' threat

"If you are near these fires, your life is at risk and you need to take action to protect your life," the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said in a Twitter post.
Image: Australia bushfire
A firefighter monitors a bush fire, believed to have been sparked by a lightning strike, that has ravaged an area of more than 2,000 hectares in northern New South Wales state, in Port Macquarie on Nov. 2, 2019.Saeed Khan / AFP via Getty Images

Towns were evacuated and hundreds of residents told to flee Friday as a record number of "unprecedented" emergency-level bush fires raged across two Australian states.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service issued warnings for 17 fires, advising people to leave early or to seek shelter. More than 50 smaller blazes were also burning out of control.

There are reports of people trapped inside their homes with crews unable to reach them due to the intensity of the fires.

"If you are near these fires, your life is at risk and you need to take action to protect your life," the fire service said in a Twitter post.

Rob Rogers, the executive director of operations at the fire service, tweeted Thursday night that the volume of emergency warning fires was "unprecedented."

By early evening, the number of emergency-level fires had eased to 15 fires simultaneously burning and three fires at that same level burning in Queensland state to the north.

High winds were fanning the fires, turning the sky red in the coastal town of Port Macquarie, according to posts on social media.

More than 1,000 firefighters and 70 aircraft had been deployed to battle the blaze.

"It is a very volatile and very dangerous set of circumstances that we are experiencing right across these fire grounds in New South Wales," fire service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

In Queensland, people in several towns including Cooroibah and Tewantin, with a combined population of around 6,500, were told to leave by the state's fire and emergency services.

Australia had an early and fierce start to its bush fire season, with an elderly couple killed in a blaze in October.

This is one of Australia's worst bush fire seasons with a record number of emergency warnings and firefighters battling dozens of fires.

The fire service said in a Twitter post that fire activity has eased across some fairgrounds but continue to pose a threat to homes.