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Sydney goes ahead with New Year's Eve fireworks as fires rage on

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But the display in Australian capital has been cancelled

PERTH: As Sydney prepares to set off its iconic New Year's Eve fireworks after being granted an exemption, most of Australia continues to burn.

Pressure had built for Sydney's spectacle to be scrapped before the New South Wales Rural Fire Service approved the event on yesterday.

The popular celebrations are expected to attract around a million people to Sydney's famous harbour front and generate A$130 million (S$123 million) for the state's economy. An estimated one billion people worldwide watched last year's display on television.

But in Australia's capital Canberra, fireworks were cancelled and event organisers said other activities, including live music performances, could also be cancelled.

"It is a sensible decision for us not to proceed with the fireworks," the territory's Emergency Services Agency commissioner Georgeina Whelan said.

NSW, Australia's most populous state and where Sydney is located, has bore the brunt of wildfires that have killed 10 people and razed more than 1,000 homes across the country in the past few months.

Of the 97 fires burning across New South Wales yesterday, 43 were not yet contained. A total fire ban was in place in Sydney, Canberra and other places to prevent new wildfires.

The NSW Rural Fire Service said yesterday that the latest fatality is a volunteer firefighter. Two other firefighters suffered burns.

Temperatures today are expected to hit 33 deg C in Sydney, with hotter weather in the western suburbs. Thick smoke is also expected.

In Victoria, Australia's second-most populous state, out-of-control wildfires were forcing thousands of residents and travellers to evacuate. Melbourne, Victoria's capital, peaked at 41 deg C yesterday.

Lightning started 16 fires in Victoria overnight.

Cooler temperatures were expected to sweep into the state late yesterday, but windy conditions and thunderstorms heightened the risk of wildfires spreading.

Victoria Emergency Management commissioner Andrew Crisp said fires had generated their own thunderstorms, creating "unpredictable and dangerous" conditions.

The authorities said "quite a number" of the 30,000 tourists had heeded calls to evacuate.

More than a dozen blazes are raging in the East Gippsland countryside, some so intensely that hundreds of firefighters were pulled back beyond a firefront estimated to stretch 1,000km.

The authorities had warned tourists that fires would cut off the last major road still open.

Mr Crisp said residents and holidaymakers still in the area faced being stranded as it was now "too late to leave", with his agency warning it was "not possible" to provide aid to all visitors in the area. - AP, AFP, REUTERS

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