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AUSTRALIA: Wine regions escape the blaze as NSW burns

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Despite the devastating bushfires that have ravaged New South Wales since Christmas and reached the fringes of Sydney, the vineyards and wineries of the Hunter Valley are so far unthreatened.

One fire, almost certainly started by an arsonist, in the Wollemi National Park west of the Hunter region could pose a threat to the Singleton coalfields - the region's other and principal industry. But on Friday morning (Australian time) it was reported to be contained.

However, the Hunter will not escape totally unscathed from the fires, which have required a national effort by thousands of fire fighters to contain them.

Tourism is the twin industry of the Hunter wine regions and (the southern) summer is high season.

Reports of the fires, uncertainty about their location and news of road closures are having a deterrent effect. Despite the ferocity of the fires not a single life has yet been lost nor have there been any serious injuries. But the damage bill in lost property alone is put at A$70m, (US$35m).

State and local authorities estimate that at least 40 arsonists, some of them children, have started fires.


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