Nine dead in SA fires

Nine dead in SA fires

12 January 2005


 The death toll from yesterday’s devastating fires on South Australia’sLower Eyre Peninsula stands at nine, after police had earlier said 10 peoplewere confirmed dead.

The fires are the deadliest Australia has seen since Ash Wednesday 22 yearsago.

The latest confimed fatality was a woman who was caught in her home at NorthShields, 10 kilometres north of Port Lincoln.

Police say at first they thought another person was also in the home butinformation now suggests the pair may have separated during the day.

Assistant Commissioner Gary Burns says it is difficult to confirm who was inthe house given conflicting reports.

“The reason for that is that we are getting conflicting information, anumber of different names and until we make a closer examination of the body,and you realise these bodies have been severely burnt, we can’t confirm the 10th[death],” he said.

Eight people, including two children, were confirmed dead in the firesyesterday.

They had all been trying to flee the blaze. Five of them died in two separatecars in the Wanilla area – and another three victims were found on the PortLincoln Highway.

The South Australian Country Fire Service says the deadly fire is nowofficially under control, two days after it started.

However, a spokesman says there are still many hotspots and crews will beneeded in the area for several more days.

‘It was an inferno’

Many locals on Eyre Peninsula say they have been severely traumatised by theevent but they have also drawn attention to the suffering of animals.

Louth Bay resident Sabine Verschuren was among those evacuated to the beach,saying she and others in the town are lucky to be alive.

“We walked out and we couldn’t see our hands in front of our face,”she said. “It was an inferno.

“It was red, it was dark, your throat started to itch and you didn’tknow what to do. For five minutes we panicked.”

Port Lincoln resident Ian Laube says looking after traumatised friends andrelatives has taken precedence despite the grim task ahead for farmers, in termsof their sheep and cattle.

“The second thing that needs to be addressed is the humane disposal ofthe livestock. The livestock mortality has been huge,” Mr Laube said.

At this stage stock loss estimates are sketchy but some put it as high as10,000.

‘We’ve got nothing left’

One man whose house burned down, Russell Puckridge of North Shields, says hehad just paid off his mortgage after 15 years.

“A lot of work all gone up in smoke, that’s all I can say,” MrPuckridge said.

“We’ve got nothing left, nothing. My missus couldn’t even grab herhandbag or nothing, no money, cards, no nothing. We’ve got what we’re wearingand that’s it.”

Borbala Nemes from Queensland, who was staying at the North Shields CaravanPark when the fire struck, has told how another caravan park resident had tojump into the nearby sea to escape the flames and smoke.

“He had to swim and he has a 12-year-old daughter, Laura is her name,and they were swimming out to the sea and the fishing boat picked them up,”Ms Nemes said.

“He told me that basically if Laura would have been dead, he would havegiven up.”


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