Australia fires expected to spread in 'severe' conditions

Firefighters have deliberately started small blazes -- a practice known as 'back burning' -- to reduce the fuel available to uncontrolled fires

Australians braced for deadly bushfires to spread and intensify Tuesday, as strong winds and high temperatures created "severe" fire conditions.

With Sydney and several other cities again cloaked in thick toxic smoke from blazes cutting through inland forests, firefighters warned of a difficult day ahead.

By early Tuesday, there were already nearly 100 bushfire incidents in the state of New South Wales alone and dozens more in Queensland.

The New South Wales rural fire service said they expected "severe conditions where embers can be blown ahead of the fire into suburbs and threaten properties."

Total fire bans were put in place across much of the east of the country and in large parts of western Australia.

Temperatures in some inland areas are expected to ease past 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

To the northwest of Sydney, several fires already burning for weeks have combined to create a "megafire" that has already destroyed 319,015 hectares (788,000 acres) of land, mostly inside national parks.

In the country's largest city, visibility was down to a few hundred metres (yards) and ailing residents were warned to stay indoors.

"People throughout coastal (New South Wales) are experiencing smoke haze this morning," the rural fire service said.

"Westerly winds have pushed smoke toward the coast. Smoke has settled over the city of Sydney. It will continue to linger until temperatures rise later in the day."

Bruce Baker -- an 82-year-old who lives in Gosford, north of Sydney -- said he was skipping his daily morning walk because of the smoke.

"This is the worst it’s been, for sure," he told AFP. "It dries your throat. Even if you're not asthmatic, you feel it."