– Australia’s most populous state declared a wildfire emergency as temperatures are predicted to rise and winds strengthen, fanning flames across New South Wales that have destroyed more than 200 properties.

State Premier Barry O’Farrell signed the order late Sunday after consulting with the police minister, and he appointed the Rural Fire Service commissioner to control and coordinate the emergency declaration.

“This is not an action taken lightly,” O’Farrell said in a statement. “But it’s important the Rural Fire Service and other emergency services have the powers and the resources they need to combat this threat.”

Firefighters battling 56 blazes, including 12 that are not contained, are bracing for renewed wild weather across the state.

Australia’s bush fire season has started early after the warmest September on record, and the intensified warnings reflect receding chances of rain to douse flames engulfing swathes of the Blue Mountains region about 50 miles west of Sydney.

Conditions will be at their worst on Wednesday, and two of the three main fires in the Blue Mountains have the potential to merge, RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters today.

A haze from the fires again shrouded Sydney’s skyline Monday, and a smell of smoke was in the air.

The government said the declaration will give emergency services personnel the power to direct the public to evacuate an area; order power and gas supplies to be shut off; and shore up or pull down buildings.

A hospital in the Blue Mountains town of Springwood was evacuated two days ago, with 24 patients transferred to the city.

More than 2,000 firefighters, including about 200 from interstate, are battling the blazes and conducted backburning operations over the weekend, taking advantage of a lull in the weather.

The fires have destroyed 208 properties and damaged 122 others, the fire service said.