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Military exercise sparked biggest wildfire in Australia

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service said a military training exercise sparked the largest of the wildfires that have ravaged the Australian state.

Investigators found the bushfire near Lithgow in New South Wales was caused by an army training exercise. Credit: Reuters TV

Fire investigators found that a massive fire near the city of Lithgow, west of Sydney, began on 16 October at a nearby Defence Department training area, and that the blaze was started as a result of live ordnance exercises at the army range.

The fire has scorched 47,000 hectares (180 square miles) and destroyed at least three houses. Credit: Reuters TV

The fire has scorched 47,000 hectares (180 square miles) and destroyed at least three houses, but no injuries or deaths have been reported.

The Defence Department declined to comment on the investigators' findings. Credit: Reuters TV

The Defence Department declined to comment on the investigators' findings, but confirmed earlier that an explosive ordnance training exercise was conducted on that date

Prince Charles sends message to Aussie firefighters

Prince Charles has sent a message of support to the firefighters tackling wildfires in Australia, some of whom he met on a visit to Bondi Beach last November.

Prince Charles meets wellwishers on Bondi Beach in Australia in November 2012 Credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

The message to the New South Wales Rural Fire Commissioner said: "I just wanted you all to know that you are very much in my thoughts as you battle courageously against such appalling bushfires around Sydney.

It continued: "My wife and I so greatly admire the selfless service you provide in such incredibly dangerous and distressing circumstances and our hearts go out to all those – including firefighters – who have lost their homes in this terrible conflagration."

The Prince has also made a contribution to the Australian Red Cross "to help them support people affected by the bushfires".

Read: Queen's send 'heartfelt sympathies' to victims of wildfires

Wildfires in Australia 'unparalleled' for time of year

Firefighters say they have "never before have we seen the extent of damage and destruction" of wildfires in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury areas of New South Wales, Australia so early in the year.

A female Rural Fire Service (RFS) firefighter walks through a burnt area near the Blue Mountains suburb of Blackheath Credit: REUTERS/David Gray

A spokesman for the Rural Fire Service said that 73 wildfires are still burning across the state and that 29 of these have not been contained.

Smoke-filled forest near the Blue Mountains suburb of Blackheath Credit: REUTERS/David Gray

He said that a blaze on the western edge of the M1 motorway had temporarily closed off traffic in one direction, and that it would take "many hours of work" to bring it under control.

A list of schools to be closed as a result of the wildfires will be published shortly, he added.


'Worst of the weather to come' as Australian fires rage

A firefighter tackles a blaze in New South Wales. Credit: RTV

Thousands of firefighters are continuing to battle dozens of wildfires raging in New South Wales as weather conditions are set to worsen.

There are 59 fires burning across the state, with 19 out of control, according to the Rural Fire Service (RFS)

RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said: "We are entering what is typically the hottest and driest period of any given day.

"The temperatures are climbing and are expected to climb and maintain their peak throughout the coming hours. The worst of the weather is still to come."

Storm in Blue Mountains will 'increase fire danger'

Officials warned that a storm heading towards the fire front in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales would increase the fire danger.

The storm is expected to bring up to two millimetres of rain, lightening and strong winds.

Aussie firefighters drive into out-of-control wildfires

Dramatic footage has shown Australian firefighters driving into the heart of wildfires as they attempt to stop out-of-control blazes from merging into a massive united inferno.

Fire crews have been battling the flames on a grand scale in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales but conditions are expected to worsen over the next 48 hours.

ITV News' Ben Chapman reports:

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