Thousands flee wildfires in southern Australia
- Published: 5/01/2013 at 07:45 AM
- Online news:
Thousands of people fled wildfires raging on the Australian island of Tasmania that have destroyed at least 80 properties amid fears that at least one man died in the blaze, police said.
File picture shows a firefighter approaches a bushfire near the town of Rylstone, northof Sydney, on November 22, 2009. Thousands of people have fled wildfires raging on the Australian island of Tasmania, destroying at least 80 properties and leaving unconfirmed reports of one man dying in the blaze, police said Saturday.
The fires flared on Friday as much of the country suffered a summer heatwave that pushed temperatures above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in Tasmania, a southern island state known for its cooler climate.
One of the worst affected areas was the small community of Dunalley, some 55 kilometres (34 miles) east of Hobart, where police estimate about 30 percent of buildings have been destroyed, including the police station and school.
In nearby Connelly's Marsh, about 40 percent of buildings have been ruined.
Police said a firefighting crew was trapped by a bushfire on Friday at Dunalley, where there are fears that a man may have died in the blaze.
"They had to take shelter in their vehicle as the fire burned over their vehicle and they were, from that location as I understand it, able to see a gentlemen who was trying to protect his property and they couldn't get to him, it was too unsafe," acting Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard said.
Police said there were no confirmed deaths or major injuries as of late Saturday, but a priority was to search damaged properties.
"We are hoping there have been no deaths associated with these fires but until we have the opportunity to get in and literally go through property by property we can't confirm there hasn't been one or more deaths," Tilyard said.
Dunalley resident Tony Young told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation he realised the seriousness of the wildfires when he spotted plumes of smoke and a helicopter overhead.
"All I could do was drive the car out of the shed, drive across the other side of the road and stand back and look at the whole place just being engulfed in flames, just like a movie," he told the broadcaster.
Further south on the Tasman Peninsula east of Hobart, about 2,000 people have taken refuge in the town of Nubeena, while another 600 are sheltering at the nearby historic Port Arthur site.
Others have been ferried to emergency accommodation in Hobart.
Authorities said while temperatures had dropped from Friday's peak of 41.8 Celsius -- the hottest day in Hobart since records began in the early 1880s -- the fire danger had yet to pass, with several bushfires still burning out of control elsewhere in the state.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said it was a "tragic time for those who have suffered loss in the devastating Tasmanian bushfires" and that the government would help support those affected.
"We want to make sure now, as the fire's still there, that people are safe, and then we'll support communities," Gillard told ABC TV.
Gillard said the images of destroyed homes were heartbreaking, particularly coming after the 2009 bushfires in southern Victoria state, known as the "Black Saturday" disaster, in which 173 people died.
"It's a very Australian thing to fear and also to understand the devastation of bushfire," she said.
Bushfires are also burning in other parts of Australia, including South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
About the author
- Writer: AFP
Position: News agency