Australia wildfires: Moment terrified family were forced to take refuge

Clinging on for dear life: Moment terrified family were forced to take refuge in the water as Australian wildfire tore through their townTammy and Tim Holmes led their five grandchildren to safety as blaze destroyed their home in Dunalley, TasmaniaThey clung to each other and the jetty for more than two hours until they eventually found dinghy to flee fire zoneChildren's mother, who had left them with her parents while she attended a funeral, feared they had been killedCooler weather has brought temporary respite today after days of record temperatures in the south of countryBut 35,000 firefighters are now on standby in Queensland as searing heat is predicted to move north later today

/s3665494.htm” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”>Australia's ABC network: 'We just waited by the phone and received a
message at 3.30pm to say that mum and dad had evacuated, that they were
surrounded by fire, and could we pray.

'So I braced myself to lose my children and my parents.'

Bracing themselves: The children prepare to enter the water to take refuge under the jetty as the wildfire rips through their grandparents' home

Bracing themselves: The children prepare to enter the water to take refuge under the jetty as the wildfire rips through their grandparents' home

Thanked God: The children's mother, Bonnie Walker, was unaware of the impending danger when she drove off to attend a funeral and feared her family had been killed when she heard of the devastation

Thanked God: The children's mother, Bonnie Walker, was unaware of the impending danger when she drove off to attend a funeral and feared her family had been killed when she heard of the devastation

Divine intervention: A building burns near the jetty. The family credits God with their survival from the fire that destroyed around 90 homes in their town of Dunalley as the country was hit with record temperatures

Divine intervention: A building burns near the jetty. The family credits God with their survival from the fire that destroyed around 90 homes in their town of Dunalley as the country was hit with record temperatures

With the oxygen supply quickly running out in the polluted air, Mrs Walker said her father Tim Holmes 'rallied against all the odds' to retrieve the dinghy from the foreshore.

Mr Holmes told how he sent his wife, their grandchildren and pet dog Polly to the nearby sea jetty when he saw smoke from the looming wildfire rise from a nearby ridge.

Despite the arrival of three fire trucks, the 62-year-old realised he could not defend the home he built himself.

'I looked at the firefighters and said, “I have to go to Tammy and the kids”,' he told the West Australian.

'For the next two-and-a-half hours, we huddled under the jetty as the fire intensified and produced a plume of smoke, ash and debris that left us with very little oxygen.

'There were times when we had to move out deeper because it was too hot and there were times when the jetty itself caught fire. I was able to scoop some water onto the jetty and put it out.'

Ravaged: This satellite image shows a number of fires burning across the Australian island of Tasmania, including the top northwestern part and central parts, as well as in the south-central parts of the island, near Hobart

Ravaged: This satellite image shows a number of fires burning across the Australian island of Tasmania, including the top northwestern part and central parts, as well as in the south-central parts of the island, near Hobart

Map of Tasmania

Map of Tasmania locating recent and current areas with wildfires as the region grips itself for the worst fires on record

They eventually made their way to
safety as the fire burnt itself out. He said his house was 'all gone'
but felt a great sense of relief that his family had survived.

The family credits God with their survival from the fire went on to destroy around 90 homes in their town of Dunalley, Tasmania.

Mrs
Walker said: 'I spent a lot of time with good friends and prayed like
I've never prayed before and I think those prayers have been answered.'

Record temperatures across southern
Australia cooled today, reducing the danger from scores of raging
wildfires but likely bringing only a brief reprieve from the summer's
extreme heat and fire risk.

Around 35,000 firefighters are on standby in Queensland today as the searing weather moves north. Temperatures in the state’s southwest are forecast to reach the high 40s today.

Australia had its hottest day on record with a nationwide average of 40.33 Celsius, narrowly breaking a 1972 record of 40.17C.

Inferno: This aerial picture taken by New South Wales Rural Fire Service shows smoke rising from a fire at Deans Gap near Sussex Inlet in the Shoalhaven area in New South Wales

Inferno: This aerial picture taken by New South Wales Rural Fire Service shows smoke rising from a fire at Deans Gap near Sussex Inlet in the Shoalhaven area in New South Wales

Menacing: Trees burns and smoke billows from a fire along the Princes Highway at Deans Gap in the Shoalhaven area in New South Wales

Menacing: Trees burns and smoke billows from a fire along the Princes Highway at Deans Gap in the Shoalhaven area in New South Wales

Keeping it under control: Firefighters douse burning logs from the Deans Gap fire near Nowra on the south coast of Australia's New South Wales state as cooler conditions helped crews battling blazes across Australia

Keeping it under control: Firefighters douse burning logs from the Deans Gap fire near Nowra on the south coast of Australia's New South Wales state as cooler conditions helped crews battling blazes across Australia

Brief respite: Record temperatures across southern Australia have cooled temporarily, but are expected to return by the end of the week

Brief respite: Record temperatures across southern Australia have cooled temporarily, but are expected to return by the end of the week

Yesterday was the third hottest day at 40.11C. Four of Australia's hottest 10 days on record have been in 2013.

'There's
little doubt that this is a very, very extreme heat wave event,' Bureau
of Meteorology manager of climate monitoring and prediction David Jones
said.

'If you look at its extent, its duration, its intensity, it is arguably the most significant in Australia's history,' he added.

With today's cool-down in southern
Australia, the national capital, Canberra, dropped from a high of 36C to
28C and Sydney dropped from 43C to 23C.

Mr
Jones expected that today would also rank among Australia's hottest
days when the national temperatures are calculated. That is because the
extreme heat has shifted from the heavier populated south to northern
and central Australia.

Horrific: Sheep burnt to death during a bushfire lay in a paddock near Bookham, near Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory

Horrific: Sheep burnt to death during a bushfire lay in a paddock near Bookham, near Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory

Scorched earth: Burnt trees from the Deans Gap fire are shown near Nowra on the south coast of Australia's New South Wales state

Scorched earth: Burnt trees from the Deans Gap fire are shown near Nowra on the south coast of Australia's New South Wales state

The bureau forecast above average
temperatures for the remainder of summer, compounding the fire danger
created by a lack of rain across central and southern Australia over the
past six months.

'It is going to be very challenging,' Mr Jones said of the wildfire danger.

No
deaths have been reported, although around 100 people have not been
accounted for since last week when a fire destroyed around 90 homes in
the Tasmanian town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart.

Today, police spokeswoman Lisa Stingel said it is likely most of those people simply have not checked in with officials.

'There are no reports of missing
persons in circumstances that cause us to have grave fears for their
safety at this time,' Tasmania Police Acting Commissioner Scott Tilyard
said in a statement.

Thousands of cattle and sheep as well as wildlife are suspected to have been killed.

Terrifying scale: Astronaut Chris Hadfield shot this incredible view of Australia's bushfires from the International Space Station

Terrifying scale: Astronaut Chris Hadfield shot this incredible view of Australia's bushfires from the International Space Station

Out of this world: Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield took this picture of the smoke from the Australian wildfires from the International Space Station

Out of this world: Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield took this picture of the smoke from the Australian wildfires from the International Space Station

In
Victoria state, north of Tasmania, a fire injured six people, destroyed
four homes and caused the evacuation of the farming community of
Carngham, Country Fire Authority operations officer Ian Morley said.

Cooler
conditions had brought relief to firefighters who would work through
the day to build earth breaks to fully contain the fire ahead of warmer
temperatures forecast for Friday, Mr Morley said.

'We have had very mild, cool conditions overnight which is a great help to the fire suppression effort,' he said.

North
of Victoria in New South Wales, Australia's most populous state,
firefighters were battling 141 fires, including 31 that had not yet been
contained.

Fires have burnt through more than 131,000 hectares of forest and farmland since yesterday.

Australia's Met Bureau has extended its forecast map's temperature range (far right) to 54 celsius in anticipation of record temperatures as wildfires continue to rage across south east Australia

Australia's Met Bureau has extended its forecast map's temperature range (far right) to 54 celsius in anticipation of record temperatures as wildfires continue to rage across south east Australia

Rural Fire Service (RFS) firefighters tackle a grass fire

Rural Fire Service (RFS) firefighters tackle a grass fire just outside of Gunning in New South Wales as more than 100 fires are still reported to be burning

The Rural Fire Service has issued contradictory reports on whether a home was destroyed there.

Fires burning out of control near the towns of Cooma, Yass and Shoalhaven were the most concerning in that state.

Rural
Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said the cool reprieve was
expected to be short-lived, with temperatures forecast to climb again by
the end of the week.

'We don't need new fires today,' he said.

The fires have been most devastating in Tasmania where at least 128 homes have been destroyed since Friday.

Hundreds of people remain at two evacuation centres in the state's south, as fires continue to burn more than 80,000 hectares since last week.

'People have lost everything. We can't comprehend that devastation unless we are in their shoes,' Tasmanian premier Lara Giddings said.

The fires have consumed over 80,000 hectares in Tasmania since last week.

Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. Fires in February 2009 killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria state.

VIDEO 'Tornadoes of fire came towards us'. Hero recounts how he saved grandchildren from inferno

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