Australian bushfires

PHOTO: Coloured skies over Manukau city in Auckland, New Zealand, on Jan. 5. Photographer: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Authorities are assessing mass property damage across southeastern Australia after searing temperatures and strong winds exacerbated catastrophic wildfires Saturday in one of the worst days of the weeks-long crisis.

Dozens of communities, from small towns on the south coast of New South Wales, to alpine villages in neighboring Victoria state, were razed as fires grew so large they generated dry thunderstorms. Milder weather, including patchy rain, across scorched areas brought some relief Sunday, though flame-fanning wind gusts have frustrated efforts to quell about 200 blazes before fire conditions worsen later in the week, authorities said.

Evacuation Notices Issued Across NSW As Firefighters Prepare For Dangerous Bushfire Conditions
Residents look on as flames burn through bush in Lake Tabourie, Australia, on Jan. 4.Photographer: Brett Hemmings/Getty Images

Thousands of people, including tourists, heeded the advice of authorities and evacuated a 350-kilometer (217-mile) stretch of coastline as well as dangerous inland areas over the past few days to escape the intensifying infernos. But many remained, hosing down their properties to protect against falling embers as they anxiously waited to see if the winds would blow the fire front in their direction.