Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia's south

SYDNEY (Reuters): More than two thousand people have been ordered to evacuate from towns in the west of Australia's Victoria state due to a bushfire burning out of control on Thursday.

The state emergency service urged residents in the towns of Raglan and Beaufort, home to around two thousand people, and those in surrounding areas to leave while it was still safe and head east to the nearby regional hub of Ballarat, 95 kms (59 miles) west of Melbourne.

Roughly 50 square kms (12,355 acres) is ablaze northwest of Ballarat. A similar area is also burning out of control further to the west.

"We expect the fire size to rapidly grow over the next hour or two, residents in the area need to put their bushfire survival plan into action now," Jason Hefferman, chief officer of the Country Fire Authority told ABC News.

Large swathes of the state are on high alert for fires and the Bureau of Meteorology on Thursday issued extreme fire danger warnings for several districts due to hot, dry winds and the potential for thunderstorms.

Temperatures were above 40 degrees Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) in the north west of the state at 3.00pm (0400 GMT).

(Reporting by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Michael Perry) - Reuters

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