Australia — A firefighter died and more than a dozen houses in two stateswere razed by wildfires that flared across southeastern Australia Thursday ashigh temperatures and blustery winds whipped up massive fire storms.
The firefighter fell from a trailer and was struck by a following vehicle ineastern Victoria state where nine houses were incinerated in the small towns ofGaffney’s Creek and A1 Settlement, ambulance and fire authorities and mediareported.
Further south, an unknown number of homes had been lost in Toongabbie,Cowwarr and Seaton and several other communities were under threat from a 6,000hectare (15,000 acre) fire, fire authorities and witnesses said.
“There’s a lot of people who’ve lost a lot of things right beforeChristmas,” Toongabbie resident Michael McDermott said, adding that he knewof several houses consumed.
“It’s been very frightening. The wind was howling, it was going in alldirections and embers were flying about,” he added. His house was not lost.
In the island state of Tasmania, four houses were destroyed in the tourismhamlet of Four Mile Creek, fire authorities said.
Some Four Mile Creek residents fled onto the beach to escape the worst of theflames.
Some 4,000 mostly volunteer firefighters have been deployed to fight theblazes that have been burning for days in Victoria and have so far scorched morethan 408,000 hectares (1,008,168 acres) of land, the state government said.
Large sections of forest have been burned, but the overall toll on farmlandand other property has been small because of efforts to divert the fires fromtowns and keep them within park lands.
Most of the fires currently burning were lit days ago accidentally by humansor by lightning strikes. Firefighters have struggled to keep them containedduring cooler days, but they jumped fire breaks Thursday as weather conditionsworsened.
“Today is the worst day since these fires started,” said VictoriaCountry Fire Authority deputy chief office Graham Fountain.
Forecasters said weather conditions in Victoria and Tasmania were expected toease later Thursday.
Wildfires are a regular feature of Australia’s hot summer months, sometimesburning through cities and towns with devastating results.
Nine people died in fires on South Australia state’s Eyre Peninsula inJanuary 2005. Eight of them died in their cars as they tried to flee theapproaching blaze.
In January 2003, more than 500 houses were destroyed and four people killedwhen a huge fire tore through the national capital of Canberra.