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Australia's severe fires 'an omen' of things to come, forestry officials say

by Julia Hollingsworth, CNN |

BRISBANE, Australia – Australia is battling more than 100 wildfires across two states, with authorities warning that the severe blazes are an "omen" of a brutal fire season to come.

In Queensland, 57 wildfires were burning as of Sunday, the state's acting premier Jackie Trad said, while in neighboring New South Wales, 53 wildfires were burning as of Monday morning, according to the state's Rural Fire Service. Both states are in eastern Australia.

In around 130 years of records, Queensland has never seen fires this severe this early in spring, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services' predictive services inspector Andrew Sturgess told media Sunday.

"It is a historic event," he said. "This is an omen, if you will – a warning of the fire season we are likely to see ahead in the southeastern parts of the state, the driest parts of the state, where most of our population lives."

The fires are being aided by dry, swift winds and low humidity – and there's no prospect of rain for the next week, said Bruce Gunn, the Bureau of Meteorology's Queensland state manager. "The seasonal outlook is rather bleak for getting anything above average rainfall," he said, adding that the region's high temperatures were exacerbating the situation.

Micheal Wassing, the acting commissioner of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, said hundreds of firefighters are working to control the blazes.

"It's going to be a very long season for us ahead, given the conditions that we're already seeing this early into the bushfire season."

In a Facebook post Sunday, New South Wales' Rural Fire Service said over 630 firefighters were working through the night to contain the fires and protect properties. "Without any significant rain, a number of the fires are expected to burn for six to eight weeks," the post said.

Already the impact of the fires is "historic," with the number of houses lost to the blazes "into the double figures," according to Sturgess. On Monday, 11 schools in Queensland and four schools in New South Wales closed due to the fires.

There have been no deaths or serious injuries due to the fires in Queensland, although in New South Wales a volunteer firefighter has been seriously injured.

>> Why Australia has bushfires

Bushfires are common in Australia -- in fact, they're part of the country's ecosystem. Areas of the country are very hot and dry, and many native plants are fire prone and combustible.

Queensland and New South Wales are particularly prone to wildfires in spring and early summer.

This year's fires follow Australia's hottest summer on record, which brought worsening drought, damaging bushfires and very low rainfall.

While bushfires often spark naturally, Queensland police said one of the fires in the state appeared to have been deliberately lit.

"That's extremely disappointing," said Steve Gollshewski, the deputy commissioner of the Queensland Police Service. "Not only are people's lives – including emergency services workers – put at risk; the people who do these sorts of acts tie up police resources for the investigations."