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NSW fire chief: Wednesday's forecast 'about as bad as it gets'

SYDNEY, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- The New South Wales fire chief expressed concern for people's safety on Wednesday, saying it could be a dangerous fire day for the Australian state.

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said if people can leave the Blue Mountains being seared by one of several bushfires, they should clear out, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Tuesday.

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"The forecast and scenario for tomorrow [Wednesday] is about as bad as it gets," Fitzsimmons said.

Temperatures Wednesday were expected to be in the 90s and wind gusts could reach 60 mph.

RELATED Officials: Australian bush fires could spawn tornadoes if combined

More than 208 homes have been destroyed and one man killed since the bushfires began Thursday.

Schools, preschools and child care centers in the Blue Mountains were closed, as were some schools in other areas threatened by the bushfires. Nursing homes were evacuated.

Showers Tuesday assisted firefighters somewhat but did not prevent the blazes from advancing, ABC said.

Fitzsimmons said three fires caused the most concern: the Lithgow fire burning in the Blue Mountains, the Mount Victoria fire and the Springwood fire that remained out of control, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

In a briefing Tuesday, Fitzsimmons said there was a real risk of fires jumping over containment lines and threatening properties.

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"If you are not prepared, leaving early is clearly your safest option," he said during a briefing Tuesday. "Leaving in the morning will be very important."

Base camps for firefighters and others have been set up throughout the state, including the Sydney Olympic Park, the fire service.

State forests and parks were closed because of the high fire risk, the Herald said.

The New South Wales Health Department also recommended people avoid outdoor exercise.

Sydney police and traffic agencies were preparing for a possible rush of people leaving the Blue Mountains before an extreme fire danger sets in, the Herald said.

"The police and management services team are aware of that," Fitzsimmons said. "We are encouraging people not to travel through the Blue Mountains tomorrow unless they really need to. Reconsider travel plans."

NSW police also urged heavy vehicles to avoid non-critical travel on the Great Western Highway between Penrith and Lithgow because conditions could worsen with little notice.

Officials said almost 1,500 volunteer firefighters would be on standby around the state if conditions get out of hand or new fires erupt.

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