Australia seeks more women firefighters

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CANBERRA, Oct 5 (Reuters) Australia is on a recruitment drive for women firefighters as the country enters what may be one of its worst bushfire seasons, with drought, strong winds and high spring temperatures already fuelling blazes.

After two homes were razed near Sydney this week at the start of the bushfire season, fire chiefs said they wanted more women on the firefront during the coming hot months to fill gaps in volunteer fire brigades.

''Women are often available at times when other people are at work or at unusual times. They are a very important part of being able to have the numbers and the spread of people we need,'' Barbara Lewis, recruitment director of the Country Fire Authority in Victoria state told Reuters.

In Victoria, where giant fires last summer burned for almost 70 days and blackened an area larger than Lebanon, only 19 percent of firefighters are women.

Fire authorities have warned Australia faces a bad fire season with two blazes in New South Wales state already straining containment lines ahead of two days of extreme conditions for early spring, including gusting winds and searing temperatures.

At the same time membership of the country's 220,000-strong volunteer bushfire brigades has been declining and fire agencies fear personnel shortages through the hottest months between December and February.

Bushfires are a regular feature of the Australian summer and have killed more than 250 people over the past 40 years.

Firecrews and water bombing aircraft north of Sydney were on Friday battling fires burning in rugged bushland near Port Stephens.

Conditions are expected to worsen at the weekend.

Reuters SYU DB1341

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