Australia Capital Airport Closed as Bushfires Flare Anew
Bushfires near the Australian capital Canberra forced the city's airport to close on Thursday, as passenger flights were halted to make way for aircraft working to extinguish the blazes, authorities said.
High temperatures and strong winds fuelled an outbreak of new blazes across several areas in eastern Australia on Thursday, ending a period of respite following several days of rains and cooler weather.
Since September the country has been battling an unprecedented wave of fires that have devastated communities and wildlife.
Flights to and from Australia's capital were suspended around midday (0100 GMT) Thursday "to allow for aviation firefighting operations", a Canberra Airport spokesperson told AFP.
A small number of flights were eventually allowed to depart, but no flights had landed at the airport and at least two major airlines cancelled all remaining services.
The Australian Capital Territory Emergency Services Agency said the airport had been closed "due to current conditions".
The terminal has not been evacuated but airport staff were helping people to return to the city on buses, the airport spokesperson told AFP.
An out-of-control blaze burning south of the airport was upgraded to an emergency level just before midday, with the agency advising residents it was "too late to leave" three suburbs in the path of the fire.
"The fire may pose a threat to all lives directly in its path," the agency said in a warning.
"People in these suburbs are in danger and need to seek immediate shelter as the fire approaches."
The fire later merged with a second out-of-control blaze that had flared to the west of the airport, with the combined bushfire spreading over 379 hectares (936 acres).
Though the airport has been used in aerial firefighting efforts for several months, it was the first time commercial operations had been suspended.