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Australia wildfires claim three more lives as conditions worsen

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In this image made from video, an aerial scene shows fires burning in Bundoora, Victoria state, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019.
In this image made from video, an aerial scene shows fires burning in Bundoora, Victoria state, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019.   -  
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Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 7, Channel 9 via AP
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Australian authorities in New South Wales have confirmed that three more people have died as fires rage across the country.

The casulaties bring the death toll to seven since Monday and 15 since the fires began, as well as over 1,000 homes destroyed and hundreds more under threat.

Military ships and aircraft were deployed Wednesday to help communities ravaged by apocalyptic wildfires that destroyed homes and sent thousands of residents and holidaymakers fleeing to the shoreline.

Navy ships were bringing water, food and fuel to towns where supplies were depleted and roads were cut off by the fires.

Meanwhile, the authorities have cautioned that conditions may worsen over the weekend, when 40C temperatures and high winds are expected to hit New South Wales.

"There is every potential that the conditions on Saturday will be as bad or worse than we saw yesterday," said Rob Rogers, New South Wales Regional Fire Service deputy commissioner.

"The winds are expected to be very strong, back to 40 plus degrees (Celsius) temperatures. We have a lot of fire in the landscape that we will not contain."

On Tuesday, wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states Tuesday trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions, destroyed many properties and caused at least two fatalities.

In the southeastern town of Mallacoota, around 4,000 residents fled toward the waterside as winds pushed an emergency-level wildfire towards their homes. The town was shrouded in darkness from the smoke before turning an unnerving shade of bright red.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews requested assistance from 70 firefighters from the United States and Canada, while emergency services commissioner Andrew Crisp confirmed “significant” property losses across the region.

New South Wales Police confirmed Tuesday that two men, believed to be father and son, died in a house in the wildfire-ravaged southeast town of Cobargo, while there are fears for another man missing.

"They were obviously trying to do their best with the fire as it came through in the early hours of the morning," New South Wales Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said. “The other person that we are trying to get to, we think that person was trying to defend their property in the early hours of the morning.”

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison paid tribute on Tuesday to a firefighter who was killed on Monday when his truck overturned.

Samuel McPaul, 28, who was an expectant father, was the third volunteer firefighter in New South Wales to have died in the past two weeks in battling fires across Australia.

Speaking in Canberra, Morrison said the challenge in combating the fires was "great" but there had been a tremendous response from emergency services.

Morrison's comments came after fire conditions worsened in Victoria and New South Wales states after oppressive heat on Monday mixed with strong winds and lightning strikes.

Residnts in New South Wales took to social media to describe being "surrounded by fire" and packing their belongings in case they need to evacuate.

Australia's wildfires have razed more than 1,000 homes in the past few months, with the most-populous state of New South Wales bearing the brunt.

The fires have led to the cancellation of a number of New Year's Eve fireworks events, including in the Australian capital of Canberra, but the elebration is still expected to take place in Sydney later today.

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