More than 130 fires raging across northeast Australia pose a “catastrophic” threat to thousands of residents, authorities have warned.

Thousands of people have been told to evacuate their homes and families have been urged to stay together as the fires continue to spread.

It was the first time the official “catastrophic” rating had been applied to Queensland, state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said, adding that the worst threat was posed by a fast-moving bushfire near the town of Gracemere, some 380 miles north of the state capital, Brisbane.

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Several houses have been destroyed since the fires began over the weekend and 34 schools have been closed.

“We have never, ever, in this state, been in this situation before,” said Katarina Carroll, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services commissioner.

“Not at a catastrophic level and this is uncharted waters.”

She said high winds, dry air and severe heatwave conditions that saw temperatures approach 40C were combining to make the danger posed by the fire extreme.

“Thunderstorms are going through those areas as we speak. There will be no rain from thunderstorms, in fact, they are adding to the problem,” Ms Carroll said.

About 8,000 people were ordered to evacuate the town of Gracemere, with hundreds of residents sleeping at an events venue in nearby Rockhampton.

The Bureau of Meteorology was forecasting weather conditions would cool after Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Associated Press 

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