Australia's capital on fire alert as smoke and dust trigger health warnings

A high alert was issued by the health authorities on Sunday after the fire closed in on the country's capital and covered the eastern region with smoke and dust

A high alert was issued in Canberra, Australia's capital, as bushfires closed in while smoke and dust covered the eastern part of the country which led to the issuing of warnings by the health authorities.

The fire has spread to more than 55,000 hectares (136,000 acres) of land which is close to the territorial landmass. The local authorities said that cooler conditions would make it easier to contain the fire but the residents should monitor for any change in the fire activity.

"There are still days, and possibly weeks, of firefighting ahead of us," Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Andrew Barr told media on Sunday.

On Saturday there was a blaze which prompted the fear of possible destruction as the temperature mounted. The authorities feared that the fire would reach the Canberra suburbs in the southern region which could threaten homes and lives like in 2003 when the fire destroyed nearly 500 homes and killed 4.

The containment lines which were supported by airdrops of fire retardant were able to keep the fire back even as the wind picked up and the temperature rose.

The never-ending fire in Australia

Australia bushfires reach Canberra
Representational Image Twitter / Scotty Imhoff

Australia's devastating and prolonged bushfire season has killed 33 people and an estimated 1 billion native animals since September. About 2,500 homes have been destroyed and more than 11.7 million hectares (2.8 million acres) of tinder-dry bushland have been razed.

The fire in the southern tip of the ACT also crossed into the state of New South Wales (NSW) and destroyed some homes, authorities said on Sunday.

In NSW, 63 fires were burning across the state on Sunday morning, with more than a third uncontained. NSW Health issued a statement saying air quality would be poor in parts of the state, including Sydney, due to a combination of bushfire smoke and dust blowing in from drought-hit areas.

Affected residents were urged to stay indoors and minimize physical activity, NSW Health said, adding those with chronic respiratory and cardiovascular conditions are particularly at risk.

Parts of the ACT and NSW are bracing for forecast thunderstorms later on Sunday - a weather event that could bring cooling rains but also cause damage and even trigger new fires through lightning strikes

(With inputs from agency)