Australian forest fires devour 1 million hectares

Australian forest fires devour 1 million hectares

14 January 2007

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Sydney — Towns in Australia’s south-east were at risk Sunday from forest fires that have now blackened more than 1 million hectares as well as razing 33 houses, killing more than 1,000 sheep and cattle and destroying 1,200 kilometres of fencing.

‘Fire is very close to properties and has burnt right up to assets in quite a few places and was spotting overnight with the wind,’ Victorian state government spokesman Pat Groenhout told national broadcaster ABC.

Since the start of December, flames have licked through an area the size of Britain despite the best efforts of a mostly volunteer firefighting force of up to 4,000. At times they were holding back a fire front stretching 250 kilometres.

Country Fire Authority spokesman Gary Weir said the volunteers, backed by 48 water-bombing aircraft, were exhausted from the struggle.

‘Firefighters are starting a little to feel the effects of fatigue,’ he said. ‘It’s been quite a few weeks now and we’ve been changing them over regularly but were hoping this is all over soon. But, unfortunately, with still most of January and February ahead of us, which are the hottest months, it’s going to be trying.’

Forest fires sparked by lightning or set by arsonists are a feature of the hot southern hemisphere summer. Four years ago seven people were killed, 500 houses razed and 3 million hectares of forest lost – an area three times the size of Britain.

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