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Threat still 'large and dangerous'

Date

Ilya Gridneff and Emma Macdonald

Aerial picture shows smoke billowing from an out-of-control fire raging towards the Siding Spring Observatory (centre), a remote global research facility in the Warrumbungle ranges about 500km north-west of Sydney.

Aerial picture shows smoke billowing from an out-of-control fire raging towards the Siding Spring Observatory (centre), a remote global research facility in the Warrumbungle ranges about 500km north-west of Sydney. Photo: NSW Rural Fire Service

The worst bushfires in NSW for more than a decade have ripped through the state's north-west, taking 33 homes and destroying 40,000 hectares of land.

More than 80 Rural Fire Service volunteers supported by 18 aircraft spent most of Monday trying to contain the 100-kilometre wide front that burned through the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran.

About 100 people living in the area were forced to evacuate and the RFS on Monday night said the blaze remained ''a large and dangerous bushfire'' that was worse than the Black Christmas fires in 2001.

On Monday night there were 125 bushfires burning in NSW, 30 of which remained uncontained.

The Australian National University vice-chancellor Ian Young will head to the Siding Spring Observatory on Wednesday to assess first-hand the damage sustained in the fires, although initial indications suggest telescopes have survived relatively unscathed.

This is a far cry from the devastation which occurred at the Mount Stromlo Observatory 10 years ago to the week when five of six historic telescopes were destroyed.

Acting vice-chancellor Erik Lithander said there had been a huge sense of relief among the ANU community that the damage had not been as severe as at Mount Stromlo and all 18 staff members and their families had been evacuated to safety.

Acting director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics Professor John Morris paid tribute to ANU facilities and services for fire-proofing the facilities as much as possible - learning from the experience of Mount Stromlo.

"They did a great job making sure trees and rubbish were removed and windows were protected with Crimsafe," Professor Morris said.

Professor Young would be accompanied by Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics director Professor Matthew Colless, and support staff including a staff counsellor to meet affected staff and their families, a number of whom have lost their homes in the fire.

All 18 people at the observatory were evacuated to Coonabarabran on Sunday afternoon.

The university has approximately $80 million of assets at Siding Spring Observatory, which are fully insured.

The ANU was involved in a seven-year legal battle over lower than expected insurance payouts following the Mount Stromlo fire.

Meanwhile, the acting NSW Premier Andrew Stoner described the bushfire season so far as ''a hell of a week'' but while milder temperatures helped firefighters on Monday, winds and temperatures were expected to increase by Friday.

And as Australia recovers from last week's record breaking temperatures, the head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, said it was clear heatwaves were occurring more frequently and would increase further as the planet warms, though it was not possible to draw conclusions from a single event.

In the south, a Victorian firefighter, Peter Cramer, died at the weekend at Taranna, east of Hobart, while working on foot to identify potential containment lines on the southern boundary of the Forcett fire, two to three kilometres from the active fire edge. with Kristen Amiet

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