Australia firefighters start to gain upper hand in 9-day bushfire battle

A Rural Fire Service (RFS) firefighter tries to extinguish a fire approaching homes near the Blue Mountains suburb of Faulconbridge, located around 80km west of Sydney on Oct 24, 2013. Firefighters in Australia took advantage of lighter winds on Frid
A Rural Fire Service (RFS) firefighter tries to extinguish a fire approaching homes near the Blue Mountains suburb of Faulconbridge, located around 80km west of Sydney on Oct 24, 2013. Firefighters in Australia took advantage of lighter winds on Friday to strengthen containment lines around several big blazes as they started to get on top of a nine-day bushfire emergency. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - Firefighters in Australia took advantage of lighter winds on Friday to strengthen containment lines around several big blazes as they started to get on top of a nine-day bushfire emergency.

Thousands of largely volunteer firefighters have been battling infernos that have destroyed more than 200 homes, cost two lives, and razed more than 124,000 hectares across New South Wales state since last week.

"This morning there's 57 bush and grass fires across the state, with 23 yet to be contained," the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said on its Facebook page, but no property was currently under threat.

"Cooler temperatures today, however residents should remain vigilant," it added.

A fire service spokeswoman said crews were taking advantage of the better conditions to strengthen containment lines and continue aggressive backburning - a tactic aimed at creating firebreaks to control the path of blazes.

"Overnight it has been backburning on most of those fires and patrolling the containment lines, as well as mopping up," she said, with more than 800 firefighters and 72 aircraft still deployed.

"With the cooler weather we want to strengthen those containment lines."

As firefighting efforts continued, the body of a pilot killed when his fixed wing water-bomber crashed in rugged terrain while tackling a blaze south of Sydney on Thursday was recovered.

An ambulance officer was winched into the remote area where the crash happened and confirmed David Black, 43, was dead. But fires and strong winds had prevented rescue crews from retrieving the body on Thursday.

The only other fatality so far was a man who had a heart attack while trying to protect his home from the flames last week.

Wildfires are common in Australia's summer months from December to February. But an unusually dry and warm winter and record spring temperatures has seen the 2013-14 fire season start early with warnings of a long, tough summer ahead.