State of emergency declared in Australia

Growing wildfires have put the heat on climate change sceptic Prime Minister Tony Abbot.

A firefighter monitors a back burn near Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains on October 21, 2013, as volunteer fire brigades race to tame an enormous blaze, with officials warning it could merge with others to create a "mega-fire" if weather conditions worsen. Picture: AFP

SYDNEY/JOHANNESBURG - A state of emergency has been declared in New South Wales as Australian emergency workers continue battling dozens of raging bush fires.

The hot, dry and windy weather has produced at least 56 fires and officials say 12 of them are out of control.

Hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed but only one death has been reported so far.

The victim is believed to have suffered a fatal heart attack while trying to defend his home from the blaze.

The causes of the fires are unknown but one report claims they could've been started by military training manoeuvres and many claim climate change has played a major role.

A long, hot summer looms for the country's Prime Minister Tony Abbott as the fires fuel opposition to his plans to repeal a carbon emissions tax, one of his basic campaign pledges in the election he won a month ago.

The links between the blazes and climate change caused by carbon emissions are complex and as the driest inhabited landmass on earth, deadly wildfires have been a perennial problem for Australia.

But a series of record-busting hot, dry conditions across the continent and an early start to the southern hemisphere summer has rekindled arguments on mankind's impact on climate and what can be done to mitigate it.

Abbott was elected in September on the back of plans to repeal Australia's scheme to price the carbon emissions responsible for global warming. He has promised to dissolve both the lower house and the Senate if his plan to scrap the scheme is blocked.

But as the fires spread, the pressure is mounting on Abbott, who once described the science around climate change as "absolute crap".

"Reducing emissions is not a free lunch, but neither is climate change," said John Conner, the Chief Executive of independent research organisation The Climate Institute. "If we're serious about reducing the risks of climate change and climate impacts like these bushfires, then we need to have a serious climate policy which is credible."

More than 200 homes have been destroyed since last Thursday as scores of fires burned through thousands of hectares of bush, farms and rural communities outside Sydney.

Forecasts for a return of hot, windy weather later this week has raised fears that three of the most dangerous blazes in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney could join up to form a massive "mega-fire", according to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.