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Australia bracing for an even worse weekend of wildfires

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 19: Fire and Rescue personal run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has declared a state of emergency for the next seven days with ongoing dangerous fire conditions and almost 100 bushfires burning across the state. It's the second state of emergency declared in NSW since the start of the bushfire season. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)

On Friday, officials in the state of New South Wales dramatically expanded their estimate of the amount of land at risk.

Already besieged by one of the worst wildfire seasons in Australian history, evacuees and those staying put on Friday braced for conditions to grow even more dire.

Across Australia’s southeast, supermarket shelves emptied, gas stations closed and roads became clogged with traffic as skies turned a hellish red or a smoke-choked white. Firefighters were overwhelmed by more than 100 raging blazes and families were forced to make perilous stay-or-go decisions.

The toll so far includes 18 deaths, more than 1,000 homes destroyed and thousands of animals killed. On Friday, experts and government officials offered a grim warning: The upcoming weekend is likely to be the most dangerous yet.

Early Friday, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service dramatically expanded its estimate of the amount of land at risk from spreading fires, including “ember attacks,” in which burning wood fragments are carried by wind. The weekend is expected to bring high winds and temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 38 Celsius.

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