"What we're seeing here is fires coming very, very close to residential properties," Curnow said. "There seems to be a sense of helplessness by some people as they are watching as these fires run out of control."
Scores of fires now have burned more than 126,000 hectares (311,000 acres), an area greater than the size of Los Angeles, said Rural Fire Service spokesman Andrew Luke.
Helicopters in the region have dropped not only water to extinguish fires but also incendiary devices on the tops of mountains to create preventive burns.
"These fires ran more than 30 kilometers in one day because it gets on top of a mountain, showers the next area with embers, starts new fires ahead of it," Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers in New South Wales said Tuesday.
The political blaze
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Australian radio that the United Nations' head of climate change was "talking through her hat" when she told CNN's Christiane Amanpour there is "absolutely" a link between the fires spreading across Australia's most populous state and global warming.
"The World Meteorological Organization has not established a direct link between this wildfire and climate change -- yet," U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres said Monday. "But what is absolutely clear is the science is telling us that there are increasing heat waves in Asia, Europe and Australia; that there, these will continue; that they will continue in their intensity and in their frequency."
Abbott said on 3AW radio in Melbourne on Wednesday that bush fires have had a long history in Australia. "The official in question is talking through her hat, if I may say so," Abbott said.
"Climate change is real, as I've often said, and we should take strong action against it, but these fires are certainly not a function of climate change, they're a function of life in Australia," he said.
"We've had bad fires since almost the beginning of European settlement. It has been since humans were on the continent. The Aboriginal people managed the landscape through various forms of firestick farming."