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Officials: Australian bush fires could spawn tornadoes if combined

  |   Oct. 21, 2013 at 9:02 AM
LITHGOW, Australia, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Three New South Wales bush fires could combine to form a huge fire capable of spawning its own weather system, including tornadoes, Australian officials said.

The state of New South Wales was under a state of emergency and the possibility the State Mine fire in the Blue Mountains could merge with the Linksview Road fire in Springwood, which destroyed 200 homes, and the Mount Victoria fire to the south, had some experts worried, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Monday.

At least one death was attributed to the fires.

Dr. Owen Price, a senior research fellow at the Center for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong, said the three fires could combine with so much energy, a weather system could be created.

"You can get these conditions, what you call a pyrocumulus, where a fire is producing so much energy it punches up through the troposphere a huge plume of smoke, essentially creating a thunderstorm with lots and lots of energy in it," he said. "Then it starts to suck in air from all around, so there's more oxygen and it feeds back on itself so the fire behavior goes really extreme."

Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said hot, dry, windy conditions have fueled the fires but the possiblity of rain Tuesday could help contain them.

"One [possibility] is that it's going to be dry for days and possibly weeks, similar conditions to what we've had over the last several weeks, in which case [the fires] are just going to keep expanding," he said Monday.

"There's a fair chance that tomorrow evening we might get some fairly heavy rain [1 or 2 inches], which might not be enough to extinguish them but certainly to put the brakes on them for a while. Rain is what will eventually put these fires out."

The Rural Fire Service upgraded the threat status of the State Mine fire, which is located near Lithgow, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Authorities said Friday a 63-year-old man collapsed and died Thursday while trying to protect his home at Lake Munmorah on the Central Coast.

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