7 Feb 2009, 5:05pm
Latest Fire News
by admin

Bushfires rage in Australia, 25 dead

By Michael Perry, Reuters, Feb 7, 2009 [here]

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Bushfires continued to rage across Australia’s southeast on Sunday [still Saturday here] as the death toll from one major blaze rose to 25, with fears that as many as 40 people have been killed, said police.

Many of those killed were trapped in cars trying to flee a huge inferno north of Melbourne, while survivors on Sunday described “walls of flames” destroying homes and engulfing entire towns.

Wildfires are a natural annual event in Australia, but this year a combination of scorching weather, drought and tinder-dry bush has created prime conditions for blazes to take hold

Australia’s worst bushfires occurred in 1983 when 75 people were killed in Victoria.

The fires are around towns about 80 km (50 miles) north of Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city.

Fourteen people were killed on Saturday night — six at Kinglake, four at Wandong, three at Strathewen and one in Clonbinane. Police have not said where the other 11 died.

Kinglake resident Gemima Richards said her husband, his brother and their parents dived into a reservoir on their property to escape the inferno.

“They drove through the fire to get down to the dam and take refuge with their parents,” Richards told Australia’s Sky television. “The fireball fell from the sky and hit their car, but luckily it bounced off their car.”

The main Victorian bushfire had burned some 3,000 hectares of mainly national park on Saturday. Within hours, the fire had burned some 30,000 hectares after the wind changed direction, fire officials said.

“We got in the car to have a look and I drove to the end of our road. There was just a wall of flame,” Kinglake resident Peter Mitchell told local radio on Sunday.


A Strathewen resident said the town had been devastated.

“There’s a lot of families in Strathewen that we haven’t been able to account for,” said Georgina, a caller on local radio.

“The school’s gone, the hall’s gone … some people left it too late. We’ve lost friends, and we’re just waiting for more (deaths to be confirmed) — children, loved ones.”

Local media reported the death toll could reach 40 and police say the death toll could rise.

The town of Marysville was also virtually destroyed.

Victoria fire official Greg Esnouf said: “This latest report says Marysville possibly one building left standing — that’s just shocking.”

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, sending his thoughts and prayers to the families and communities hit, said: “This is an appalling loss of life, an appalling loss of property.”

With more heatwave conditions and strong winds forecast for Sunday, tens of thousands of firefighters battled more than 60 blazes in Victoria and New South Wales states.

Firefighters said fires continued to burn right across Victoria state, destroying 100,000 hectares and more than 100 homes, and would takes days to control.

“We still have about eight major fires that are burning across the state,” said Darren Grevis-James, a spokesman for southern Victoria state’s Country Fire Authority which has deployed about 3,000 firefighters to battle the blazes.

Authorities said a final death toll would take days to confirm as emergency officials moved into burned out areas.

“The property loss, the houses and even people missing can take days (to determine) because the focus at the moment is putting out the fires,” said Grevis-James, adding that the fires had raced through both suburban areas and farmland.

On Saturday, temperatures in Melbourne soared to 46.4 degrees Celsius (115.5 Fahrenheit), the highest on record, but temperatures eased on Sunday.

“We’ve had a sprinkling of rain but it’s not enough to do anything,” Grevis-James said.

Nearly 60 fires were also burning in New South Wales state, reported local media, with firefighters preparing for 40 degrees Celsius plus temperatures and strong winds on Sunday.

“The prospects of containing these fires is remote at best,” said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.



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