Australia braces for horror bushfire weekend

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SYDNEY, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- Australia is once again bracing for extreme fire conditions on Friday, with widespread evacuations amid warnings that conditions could significantly deteriorate over the weekend.

Strong winds and temperatures above 40 degrees celsius were forecast for the States of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, where at least nine people lost their lives earlier in the week.

"Fire dangers on Saturday will reach severe to extreme yet again across fire sites and communities that have already seen large scale devastation," scientist Jonathan How of the Bureau of Meteorology said.

NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons confirmed that 328 homes had been lost since New Year's Eve, with a large but as yet unknown number of homes also expected to have been lost in Victoria.

As of Friday 28 people remained missing across Victoria's badly affected East Gippsland region, with traditional lines of communication such as phone and internet service interrupted.

In Victoria more than 7150,000 hectares of bushland has already been burnt.

"We have grave fears for the safety and wellbeing for those 28 who cannot be located," Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

Andrews declared a State of Disaster for six local government areas across Victoria, and in NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a State of Emergency for the third time this fire season.

The measures give extensive powers to emergency service officials to coordinate the disaster response, as well as dictate mandatory evacuations.

"In those declared areas, those six local government areas, the alpine resorts and particularly the fire impact zone if you can leave you must leave," Andrews said.