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Queen sends message over wildfires
The Queen has sent a personal message to the Governor of New South Wales, expressing her sympathy as the Australian state battles raging wildfires.
Almost 200 homes have been destroyed in the worst hit region - the Blue Mountains west of Sydney - and another 109 have been damaged by fire.
Homes have been reported damaged in other regions as 68 fires continue to burn, including 22 out of control, but confirmed numbers are not yet available.
The Queen told NSW Governor Marie Bashir today: "I would like to convey my heartfelt sympathies to all those who have been affected by the devastating bushfires across New South Wales.
"My thoughts are with the many people who have lost their homes or livelihoods in the fires and I have the greatest admiration for the firefighters, volunteers and emergency services officers who are working tirelessly to control the situation."
A 63-year-old man died of a heart attack on Thursday while protecting his home from fire at Lake Munmorah, north of Sydney, and at least five people - including three firefighters - have been treated in hospitals for burns and smoke inhalation, officials said.
Police are investigating allegations that two girls aged 12 and 13 tried to light a fire in a woodland on Sydney's western fringe on Friday. Firefighters were able to extinguish a small fire in that area without damage to property.
Police said the girls were questioned and then released. No charges were filed, but an investigation was continuing.
Arson investigators are examining the origins of several of more than 100 fires that have threatened towns surrounding Sydney in recent days.
In February 2009, wildfires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria state.