MELBOURNE (AFP) - Most bushfires raging in Australia were downgraded from emergency levels Tuesday as crews battled to get the upper hand on blazes that have destroyed 34 homes and razed a huge area of land.
The hot windy conditions that fanned scores of major infernos across the nation's southeast on Sunday eased although officials said at least 18 fires were still burning across Victoria state and warned of more challenging times ahead.
Victoria Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said three key fires remained a concern, with a total of 34 houses so far confirmed to be destroyed and 350,000 hectares (865,000 acres) burned.
"We're hoping the cyclone in Western Australia will send some rain down, but there is no significant rain forecast otherwise," he told 3AW radio.
"We're looking at this bushfire season to last all of February and into March." Many of the fires are burning in difficult terrain - hills, valleys and rocky areas - making it difficult for fire crews to access.
"People think there needs to be 40 degree days, and 100kmh winds, that's not the case," Lapsley told reporters.
"We've got such a dry environment, fuels are available to burn, and we don't need all of those factors to see intense fires." While fires were downgraded to watch and act in Victoria, the Country Fire Service in South Australia issued an emergency alert Tuesday afternoon for a scrub blaze at Bangor in the state's Southern Flinders Ranges, saying homes were at risk.
"The Bangor fire is travelling in a easterly direction towards Stone Hut.
There is a risk to lives and homes," it said.
At the height of the disaster officials said the conditions were the worst Australia had seen since a 2009 inferno killed 173 people.
The emergency came exactly five years after the so-called Black Saturday firestorm devastated Victoria, flattening whole towns in what was Australia's deadliest natural disaster of the modern era.
Vast wildfires are common in Australia's December-February summer months.
Some 25 homes were destroyed in the southeast last month following a week-long heatwave that also saw 56 homes razed in separate blazes on the west coast.
Experts say heatwaves are becoming longer and more frequent in Australia due to climate change.