Australian wildfire sparked by helicopter fighting blazes threatens homes on Canberra outskirts

A wildfire sparked by a military helicopter helping firefighting efforts was blazing out of control and threatening homes on the outskirts of Australia's capital on Tuesday as fire danger escalated across the country’s southeast.

The fire had spread over 8,000 hectares (19,000 acres) since it was started by a transport helicopter landing light that ignited grass in a national park south of Canberra on Monday afternoon, authorities said.

Jan. 23, 2020: A firefighter battles the Morton Fire as it consumes a home near Bundanoon, New South Wales, Australia. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Jan. 23, 2020: A firefighter battles the Morton Fire as it consumes a home near Bundanoon, New South Wales, Australia. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The village of Tharwa was under threat with drifting embers starting spot fires ahead of the fire front. Emergency services personnel knocked on doors in Canberra's southern suburbs telling residents to prepare in case they had to evacuate.

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Authorities have warned Canberra that the fire poses the greatest threat to the city of 420,00 people since 2003, when an inferno killed four people and destroyed almost 500 homes in a single day.

More than a dozen Tharwa residents chose to stay and defend their homes rather than evacuate, Tharwa General Store owner Kevin Jeffrey said.

A firefighter covers his face while battling the Morton Fire near Bundanoon, New South Wales, Australia, on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. (AP Photo (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A firefighter covers his face while battling the Morton Fire near Bundanoon, New South Wales, Australia, on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. (AP Photo (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

“We're pretty comfortable that we've got some good support here,” Jeffrey told Australia Broadcasting Corp., referring to Canberra firefighters deployed in the village.

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Army Lt. Gen. Greg Bilton said military helicopters involved in supporting firefighters would no longer use their landing lights after sparking the blaze during a reconnaissance mission.

“It's important that we continue our operation in support of emergency services,” Bilton told reporters.

Jan. 10, 2020: Rural Fire Service large air tanker 134, operated by Coulson Aviation in the U.S. state of Oregon, drops fire retardant on a wildfire burning close to homes at Penrose, Australia, 165km south of Sydney. Three American crew members died Thursday when this C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker crashed while battling wildfires in southeastern Australia, officials said. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image via AP)

Jan. 10, 2020: Rural Fire Service large air tanker 134, operated by Coulson Aviation in the U.S. state of Oregon, drops fire retardant on a wildfire burning close to homes at Penrose, Australia, 165km south of Sydney. Three American crew members died Thursday when this C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker crashed while battling wildfires in southeastern Australia, officials said. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image via AP)

Canberra's airport was temporarily closed last week by a wildfire that threatened homes on its northern fringe. That fire has been extinguished, but the southern fire is expected to burn out of control for weeks.

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Fire conditions are forecast to worsen across much of drought-stricken southeast Australia with temperatures forecast to rise in the coming days.

A unprecedented fire season has claimed at least 33 lives since September, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed more than 10.6 million hectares (26.2 million acres).