Firefighters battled more than 150 blazes across Queensland and New South Wales on Thursday afternoon, with authorities blaming lightning strikes and difficult weather conditions.
A ferocious fire that claimed two lives and destroyed 16 homes in southern Queensland was set to be contained but authorities are still wary of “extreme fire danger”, with 60 fires burning across the state.
In NSW more than 1,000 personnel have been deployed to the state’s north to respond to major bushfires across multiple regions. There were 110 fires across the state on Thursday afternoon, with 55 yet to be contained.
Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup
Many residents are still unable to return to Tara, 300km west of Brisbane, although some people living in areas south of the town have been told they can return with caution. Those to the north-east of Tara, in Kogan, have been told to prepare to leave.
A yet-to-be-identified body was found in the fire-ravaged Western Downs region on Tuesday night and a 73-year-old woman also died after she suffered a heart attack while trying to evacuate her property.
A wind change and light showers late on Wednesday looked set to turn the tide for fatigued firefighters before lightning struck, sparking five new blazes.
Sixteen homes destroyed but some relief from Tara bushfire as emergency evacuation order liftedRead more
“If anything it created more issues for our firies,” said the Western Downs mayor, Paul McVeigh. “They had to attend to five lightning strikes and put them out as soon as they appeared.”
A recovery plan is now in place for Tara, with firefighters confident the large blaze, which has burned more than 11,000 hectares, would be fully contained by Thursday night.
More than 40 crews were set to wrap up containment while other firefighters battle a nearby blaze threatening Halliford, caused by a lightning strike on Wednesday night.
There were fears the fire would also threaten Tara, prompting the relocation of hundreds of evacuees to Dalby and Chinchilla late on Wednesday. About 239 were moved to Dalby and 28 to Chinchilla.
skip past newsletter promotion
Sign up to Morning Mail
Free daily newsletter
Our Australian morning briefing breaks down the key stories of the day, telling you what’s happening and why it matters
after newsletter promotion
Almost 150 firefighters were deployed to fight the fires with 34 water-bombing aircraft available. Residents at Halliford and nearby Wieambilla were also told to leave their homes on Thursday.
A fire on the Darling Downs in the state’s south-west, which burned about 3,000 hectares, destroyed a house and forced people into evacuation centres, was contained on Thursday. But fires were still threatening Undullah, south-west of Brisbane, and Mutchilba, in north Queensland, with residents told to seek shelter immediately.
There were extreme fire danger warnings for the Maranoa region in the south-west and for the central west, north-west and Channel Country.
The Bureau of Meteorology said a southerly change would bring cooler conditions moving through the Queensland’s west. But the bureau warned the cool change would bring strong, gusty winds, driving up the fire danger in the coming days.
In NSW a blaze in the Nymboida area, 30km south-west of Grafton, eased after an emergency warning was issued and dangerous weather conditions created erratic fire behaviour.
Firefighters were working to establish containment lines around a bushfire that was still burning out of control on Thursday afternoon after covering more than 3,475 hectares.
Other keenly watched fires include a 1,600-hectare blaze on Thunderbolts Way, near Gloucester, and a fire that has scorched 1,470 hectares of the national park east of Tenterfield.
The NSW Rural Fire Service operational officer, Angela Burford, said storm conditions increased the number of fires throughout the day.
“We saw a band of lightning move across north-eastern NSW bringing new fire starts as well as in Tamworth and surrounds,” she said.
Several blazes west of the Kempsey region are also being watched closely. A fire in Willi Willi national park and surrounding areas has burnt more than 29,500 hectares and was being controlled.