SYDNEY, Feb 24 — A bushfire in Australia’s Victoria state raged out of control today, with authorities issuing a fresh evacuation alert at the highest danger rating for hundreds of residents in the state’s west.

The emergency warning followed the downgrading today of another bushfire, sparked earlier this week, that has killed livestock, destroyed properties and forced more than 2,000 people to leave western towns and head to the city of Ballarat, 95 km (59 miles) west of state capital Melbourne.

The new blaze was threatening the rural town of Amphitheatre, population 223.

“Leaving immediately is the safest option, before conditions become too dangerous,” Vic Emergency said on its website, adding that the fire was “not yet under control”.

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The Australian Broadcasting Corp reported today that three homes and several outbuildings had been destroyed this week in Victoria’s bushfire emergency.

Around 1,000 firefighters supported by more than 50 aircraft have battled the fires since they started.

Australia is currently in the grips of an El Nino weather pattern, which is typically associated with extreme phenomena such as wildfires, cyclones and droughts.

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The last two bushfire seasons in Australia have been subdued compared with the 2019-2020 “Black Summer” when bushfires destroyed an area the size of Turkiye and killed 33 people and 3 billion animals. — Reuters