The Australian capital region declared a state of emergency on Friday because of an out-of-control forest fire burning erratically to its south.
It's the first fire emergency for the Australian Capital Territory area since 2003 when wildfires killed four people and destroyed almost 500 homes in a single day.
The threat is posed by a blaze on Canberra's southern fringe that has razed more than 21,500 hectares (53,000 acres) since it was sparked by heat from a military helicopter landing light on Monday, the Emergency Services Agency said.
"The state of emergency sets a clear expectation for our community that we need you to be vigilant," Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman told reporters. "This is the worst bushfire season in the ACT since 2003."
The fire is burning at emergency level -- the highest on a three-tier scale of danger -- and embers have created dangerous spot fires nearby, agency officials said.
Residents of southern Canberra suburbs and surrounding villages have been advised to prepare to either protect their homes or evacuate.
Roads were blocked to the village of Tharwa late Friday because the fire posed too much danger for residents to evacuate or return to their homes.
The fire is the most dangerous of dozens of blazes burning Australia's drought-stricken southeast.
Unprecedented fires across southern Australia have claimed at least 33 lives since September, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed more than 10.6 million hectares (26.2 million acres).
The fire danger is forecast to escalate across the southeast in the Australian Capital Territory and the states of New South Wales and Victoria as summer temperatures rise over the weekend.
The state of emergency gives Canberra's local government additional powers to block roads, direct people's movements, control their property and undertake firefighting work on private land.
A wildfire sparked by a military helicopter helping firefighting efforts was blazing out of control and threatening homes on the outskirts of Australia's capital on Wednesday as fire danger escalated across the country's southeast.
The fire had spread over 9 ,500 hectares ( 23,500 acres) since it was started by a transport helicopter landing light that ignited grass in a national park south of Canberra on Monday afternoon, authorities said.
The fire was downgraded from emergency level to the second level on a three-tier danger scale overnight, but it remained out of control, the Emergency Services Agency said.
The village of Tharwa was under threat on Tuesday with drifting embers starting spot fires ahead of the fire front. Emergency services personnel knocked on doors in Canberra's southern suburbs on Tuesday night telling residents to prepare in case they had to evacuate.
Authorities have warned Canberra that the fire poses the greatest threat to the city of 420,00 people since 2003, when an inferno killed four people and destroyed almost 500 homes in a single day.
More than a dozen Tharwa residents chose to stay and defend their homes rather than evacuate, Tharwa Country Store owner Kevin J effer y said.
"We're pretty comfortable that we've got some good support here," Jeffery said, referring to Canberra firefighters deployed in the village.
Army Lt. Gen. Greg Bilton said military helicopters involved in supporting firefighters would no longer use their landing lights after sparking the blaze during a reconnaissance mission.
"It's important that we continue our operation in support of emergency services," Bilton said.
Canberra's airport was temporarily closed last week by a wildfire that threatened homes on its northern fringe. That fire has been extinguished, but the southern fire is expected to burn out of control for weeks.
Fire conditions are forecast to worsen across much of drought-stricken southeast Australia with temperatures forecast to rise in the coming days.
A unprecedented fire season has claimed at least 33 lives since September, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed more than 10.6 million hectares (26.2 million acres).
Former Premier League stars Didier Drogba, Dwight Yorke and Park Ji-Sung are among an initial group of international footballers confirmed for an exhibition match in Sydney in May to aid in the country's recovery from devastating wildfires.
The first release of players for the 'Football for Fires' match, which will be played at Sydney's Olympic Stadium on May 23, will also include Emile Heskey, Dario Simic, Geremi, Pedro Mendes, Major League Soccer striker Dwayne de Rosario and former Juventus stars David Trezeguet and Claudio Marchisio.
Several Australian 'Socceroos' will also participate, including former Manchester United and Chelsea goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, John Aloisi and recently retired captain Mark Milligan.
Football Federation Australia said in a statement Tuesday "all proceeds from the match will go toward the restoration and improvement of local football clubs and facilities in fire-affected areas nationwide."
The wildfires have claimed at least 33 lives in Australia since September, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed more than 10.6 million hectares (26 million acres). That's an area larger than the U.S state of Kentucky.
Eye surgeon James Muecke has been named the Australian of the Year for 2020 for his work preventing blindness.
Muecke was honoured by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at an Australia Day ceremony in Canberra on Saturday night.
A South Australian who began his medical career in Kenya, Muecke in 2008 co-founded Sight For All, an organization that aims to deliver eye health care free of charge around the world.
Accepting the award he described type 2 diabetes, the leading cause of blindness in adults, as a "looming catastrophe for our health system."
"It's a growing epidemic and it's the biggest threat to our health system," he said.
"In 2020, I'm going to continue my fight for the right to sight."
However, he said that he would have 12 months to draw attention to the disease, instead using his speech to focus on Australia's bushfire crisis.
"The uncompromising bushfires that have swept through our country have left widespread disruption and heartbreak in their wake, and few of us remain untouched," Muecke said.
"Too many people have lost their lives, and the devastation of our landscape and iconic wildlife is beyond belief.
"And all of this on the back of the unprecedented droughts and floods that have tortured our beloved country and farming communities over the past few years - my thoughts are with all who've been affected."
Tennis player Ash Barty, who finished 2019 ranked number one in the world, was named the Young Australian of the Year for inspiring fans while obstetrician John Newnham received the Senior Australian of the Year.
Three U.S. firefighters were killed when a water tanker plane crashed while fighting bushfire in Australia, local authorities confirmed on Thursday.
The Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules Large Air Tanker, owned by Canadian operator Coulson Aviation, had been fighting a bushfire in New South Wales (NSW).
The plane had served in NSW for several years. The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said earlier it lost contact with the plane on Thursday. A flight tracking website showed that the flight path ended south of Canberra.
"Tragically there appear to be no survivors as a result of the crash," said RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, adding all three crew members were U.S. citizens.
"It's impacted heavily with the ground and initial reports are that there was a large fireball," he said.
Although teams are continuing to search for the wreckage, with two out-of-control fires burning at emergency level, efforts to recover the downed aircraft have been largely hampered.
Gladys Berejiklian, premier of NSW, expressed her condolence to families of the deceased.
Large Air Tankers have the capacity to dump 15,000 liters of fire retardant in hard-to-access locations, allowing ground crews to create vital containment lines.
While firefighters have had some relief over the past week with heavy rain and cooler, more favorable wind conditions, on Thursday, temperature soared to over 40 degrees centigrade in some parts.
As a result, simmering fireground once again reignited.
"At 3:00 p.m. local time, there's 84 bush or grass fires across New South Wales State with nearly 40 yet to be contained," NSW RFS said on social media.
"Five fires are at Emergency Warning level. A southerly change is moving up the coast. It's not likely to reach places like Sydney until early tomorrow morning."
The smoke from one grass fire was so bad that Canberra Airport was forced to shut down, with all flights in and out of the nation's capital cancelled or severely delayed.
When asked about Thursday's plane crash, NSW Premier Berejiklian told reports that "it demonstrates the dangerous work currently being undertaken, and it also demonstrates the conditions that our firefighters are working under."
"There are in excess of 70 aircraft that have been used today alone. Today is a stark and horrible reminder of the dangerous conditions that our volunteers, emergency services personnel undertake daily," she said.
The identity of pilots has not yet been revealed by authorities.