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Australian bushfires prompt stronger travel warning from Canadian government

Click to play video 'Australia bushfires: Why the situation is likely to get worse' Australia bushfires: Why the situation is likely to get worse
WATCH: Australia bushfires - Why the situation is likely to get worse

Canada elevated the risk level for areas in Australia affected by bushfires on Friday, advising travellers to “exercise a high degree of caution.”

The risk classification is one level above advisories to “exercise normal security precautions,” but below those to “avoid non-essential travel” and “avoid all travel.”

The new risk level means that there are “identifiable safety and security concerns” and the situation could change “with little notice,” according to the government’s website.

READ MORE: World’s largest volunteer fire service takes on Australia’s devastating blazes

“You should exercise a high degree of caution at all times, monitor local media and follow the instructions of local authorities,” the website says.

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Australia is in the midst of battling bushfires that have consumed 8.4 million hectares of land over the last five months — an area larger than the provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island put together.

The Australian state of New South Wales, whose capital is Sydney, has seen the worst of the fires, but they have also spread to other parts of the country, including Victoria and the western edges of the continent.

Click to play video 'Global News producer gives first-hand account of devastating wildfires in Australia' Global News producer gives first-hand account of devastating wildfires in Australia
Global News producer gives first-hand account of devastating wildfires in Australia

The fires have been fuelled by persistent heat waves, one of the worst droughts the country has seen in decades, and high winds that are further spreading the fires.

The death toll currently sits at 24 people, with more than 2,000 homes destroyed. Researchers estimate nearly 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles have been affected in New South Wales alone since September.

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The Canadian government says some areas in Australia are at the ‘catastrophic’ alert level, the highest of the country’s Fire Danger Ratings system.

The government also warns that local authorities have issued many evacuation orders and states of emergencies due to the fires, and they have resulted in several casualties.

READ MORE: Australia’s wildfires are burning an area larger than the size of Nova Scotia

Canadians considering travel to Australia should know that air quality is affected in various regions throughout the country, according to the government, which “may have an impact on people suffering from respiratory ailments.”

Services in the country will also likely be affected, including transportation, air traffic, power distribution, water and food supply, telecommunications networks, emergency services and medical care.

The Canadian federal government says if you are in or near an affected area, be prepared to change your travel arrangements or evacuate the area on short notice.

Click to play video 'Australia bushfires: Authorities calls for another mass evacuation as extreme temperatures return' Australia bushfires: Authorities calls for another mass evacuation as extreme temperatures return
Australia bushfires: Authorities calls for another mass evacuation as extreme temperatures return

Meanwhile, United Airlines also announced Friday that it is expecting delays to and from Sydney and Melbourne due to “low visibility and wildfire smoke.”

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The airline will be waiving the change fee and any difference in fare for United flights departing on or before Jan. 17, as long as the original ticket was purchased by Jan. 8 and the reschedule is in the same class and between the same cities.

— With files from Emerald Bensadoun