SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia's top research observatory, which houses telescopes used by scientists from around the world, was damaged by a large wildfire Sunday as hot weather and storms stoked dozens of new blazes. The Rural Fire Service (RFS) of New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, issued an emergency warning for an out-of-control fire that scorched the Siding Spring Observatory, a remote global research facility. "This is a large and dangerous bush fire. It is burning in the area around Timor Road near Siding Spring Observatory," the RFS said. It said two properties in Timor Road had been destroyed and part of the observatory was damaged by fire. The extent of the damage was unclear.

All observatory staff were evacuated before the fire and were safe.

Siding Spring, a mountaintop site in the Warrumbungle Ranges about 500 kilometres (310 miles) north-west of Sydney, houses 10 operating telescopes run by Australian, Polish, British, Korean and American researchers.

Administered by the Australian National University's research school of astronomy and astrophysics, Siding Spring is the nation's major optical and infrared observatory and one of the top facilities of its kind in the world.

A university spokeswoman said all observatory personnel had been confirmed as "safely evacuated and accounted for".

Crews were battling difficult conditions, with temperatures in the area above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and hot north-westerly gusts of about 60 kilometres per hour.