Australia Wildfires: Flames destroy dozens of homes as thousands flee

Wildfires destroy dozens of homes in Australia as crews battle flames in 42C heat
Around 80 buildings destroyed on island state of TasmaniaSchool, police station and bakery burnt down in carnageHigh winds and scorching temperatures mean more fires likely

By
Steve Robson

PUBLISHED:

19:40 GMT, 5 January 2013

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UPDATED:

16:43 GMT, 6 January 2013

More than 40 fires are still raging on the island of Tasmania, as a result of the fiercest heatwave to hit Australia in more than a decade.

Emergency services spent much of today searching burned-out vehicles and homes in the towns worst hit by the wildfires, which began on Thursday and have been fanned by strong winds.

Tasmania hit a peak temperature of 41.8C (108F) on Friday and although the heat eased over the weekend, firefighters have now issued an emergency warning in Taranna, 47km (29 miles) east of the state capital Hobart, where a fire burning for more than three days has threatened residents.

Fire crews from Victoria and South
Australia headed to Tasmania on Sunday to help fatigued crews there,
while fires burned on in mainland states South Australia, Victoria, and
New South Wales.

Speaking on Friday, Tasmania Fire Service chief
officer Mike Brown said: 'We reached catastrophic fire danger
ratings at times during this afternoon.

'I don't think we're quite out of the woods yet.'

The national weather bureau warned this weekend's relative mildness would be a brief reprieve, with extremely hot conditions set to return to much of the country early next week.

The fires that continue to burn in Tasmania have cut off communities and hampered efforts to search devastated areas.

In the small town of Dunalley, 56km east of Hobart, more than 80 homes and buildings and a school have been destroyed. The carnage included the town's school, police station and a bakery.

There had been reports of a fatality but
police later confirmed that there have been no reported deaths as a
result of the fires.

Nearby Boomer Bay and Marion Bay have also suffered damage.

Acting Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) there were about 100 people with whom authorities are still trying to make contact.

It may take days to determine whether the fires have killed anyone during what is the peak holiday season on the island.

'We're hoping very much along with everyone else that there won't be (any deaths), but we need to go through the process to confirm that there haven't been,' Tilyard told ABC.

Bushfires are a major risk in the Australian summer, which brings extreme heat, dryness, and strong winds.

Authorities warned earlier in the summer that much of the country faced extreme fire conditions this season.

The Black Saturday fires, the worst in Australia's history, killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria in February 2009.

Australia's wheat harvest is unlikely to be affected by the fires and hot weather, as the vast majority of this season's crop has been harvested, analysts said.

Bathers enjoy the beach at Carlton near Hobart as smoke from the bush fires billows in the background

Bathers enjoy the beach at Carlton near Hobart as smoke from the bush fires billows in the background

A school has been left burnt to the ground by a bush fire in Dunalley, Tasmania

A school has been left burnt to the ground by a bush fire in Dunalley, Tasmania

Smoke from a bushfire billows over hills near Forcett, about 25 kilometres east of Hobart

Smoke from a bushfire billows over hills near Forcett, about 25 kilometres east of Hobart

Up to 80 homes have been destroyed by wildfires in Tasmania as temperatures reach 42 degree

Up to 80 homes have been destroyed by wildfires in Tasmania as temperatures reach 42 degrees

Wildfires are common in the Australian summer but can cause huge amounts of damage and have left many dead in the past

Wildfires are common in the Australian summer but can cause huge amounts of damage and have left many dead in the past

Thousands of people have had to flee their homes as the fire sweeps through Tasmania

Thousands of people have had to flee their homes as the fire sweeps through Tasmania

The fires took hold about 40kilometres east of Hobart in Tasmania

The fires took hold about 40kilometres east of Hobart in Tasmania