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Australia braces for heatwave as more than 100 fires burn

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Out of control bushfires forced residents in eastern Australia to flee their homes on Saturday, as other parts of the country braced for a heatwave due next week.

Bushfires are common in the country but scientists say this year’s season has come earlier and with more intensity due to a prolonged drought and climatic conditions fuelled by global warming.

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Scorching temperatures have tipped above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) close to where a fire was burning on the outskirts of Brisbane in Queensland state, with residents in three suburbs told to “leave immediately”.

“Conditions are now very dangerous and firefighters may soon be unable to prevent the fire advancing,” the Queensland Fire Authorities warned. “The fire may pose a threat to all lives directly in its path.”

A shipping container full of fireworks exploded as the fire raged, authorities said. There were no immediate reports of injuries from the explosion.

More than 100 fires were burning across Australia’s east Saturday, including a “mega fire” burning north of Sydney.

After combining with other bushfires Friday the huge blaze is now under control but continued to burn across 250,000 hectares within an hour’s drive of Australia’s largest city.

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Sydney has been engulfed in toxic smoke for weeks and occasionally sprinkled with snow-like embers.

The pilot of a helicopter supporting the fire efforts was lucky to escape with just minor injuries after crashing about 200 kilometres north of the city Saturday.

Easing conditions overnight provided brief respite in New South Wales state and allowed for controlled burning to prevent future damage during the anticipated heatwave.

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But firefighters remained on high alert as blustery winds threatened to fan unpredictable flames.

Authorities Saturday were bracing for more dire conditions next week when temperatures in parts of the state are expected to tip over 40 degrees Celsius.

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“So a lot of work ahead over the coming days, particularly in anticipation of what is expected to be another heatwave coming into Tuesday,” state fire service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told national broadcaster ABC.

A drought has left much of eastern Australia tinder-dry and spot fires have raged every day for the past three months.

More than 600 homes have been destroyed and six people have died since the crisis began in September.

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That is many fewer than Australia’s deadliest recent fire season in 2009 when almost 200 people died, but 2019’s toll so far belies the scale of devastation.

An estimated two million hectares have burned — the size of some small countries — across a region spanning hundreds of kilometers (miles).


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2020 Election

Frontrunner Bernie Sanders was the center of attention at the #DemDebate

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Democratic White House hopefuls rounded on leftist frontrunner Bernie Sanders at a feisty debate Tuesday, attacking him as too extreme for American voters and a flawed challenger to President Donald Trump.

Joe Biden, who needs a victory in South Carolina's crucial primary on Saturday to keep his campaign alive, hit Sanders as soft on gun control, while billionaire tycoon Michael Bloomberg claimed Russia was working to help Sanders win the nomination -- betting he would be defeated in November.

And Sanders' rivals joined in savaging the self-described democratic socialist as too radical to appeal to a broad swathe of Americans.

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2020 Election

Biden campaign walks back the VP’s stump speech tale about being arrested trying to visit Nelson Mandela

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Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign walked back a tale that he has repeatedly told on the campaign trail.

On Friday, The New York Times reported Biden had told similar versions of the same story "at least three campaign appearances over the past two weeks."

“This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid,” Biden claimed. “I had the great honor of meeting him. I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on Robbens Island.”

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2020 Election

There were zero winners and lots of losers at the Democratic presidential primary debate

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Well, that's was a complete disaster.

Tuesday night's Democratic presidential primary debate was the last time the candidates would meet on stage together before the potentially pivotal South Carolina primary, and largely because of absolutely dreadful moderation, the whole event was essentially pointless.

I often write up my analysis of debate nights by explaining my subjective perspective about who came out stronger after the debate and who left weaker — winners and losers. But by the midpoint of the debate on Tuesday night, that format looked less and less appropriate. The muddled, confused, and slapdash nature of the event made the candidates all look like they were struggling to get a word in edgewise. They talked over each other. The questions would insubstantial and amateurish (ironically, one of the best questions came from Twitter.) There was no cohesion to the discussion and no internal logic behind which candidate got to speak. And while there were jabs and counterattacks between some of the candidates, the moderators were usually unable to pull the discussions in a meaningful direction.

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