KI bushfires claim life of man, 22, as he tries to flee inferno

KI bushfires claim life of man, 22, as he tries to flee inferno

7 December 2007

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Australia — Trapped in his truck, a man who died trying to escape the Kangaroo Island fires last night stood no chance as he was hit by a wall of flame.

Reports suggest Joel Riley, a transport worker who was engaged to be married, jack-knifed the vehicle as he fled the blaze and then was unable to break out of the fire zone.

Extra fire crews continue to rush to KI, where the community is reeling from the tragedy as a cluster of  up to eight seperate fires have forced authorities to declare much of  the island an exclusion zone.

Anyone other than locals and emergency workers have been banned from the zone, which includes all parts of the island west of a north-south line starting at Kingscote.  The worst fire, at Flinders Chase, is expected to burn for days.

A firefighter battles the Vivonne Bay blaze yesterday – close to where a 22-year-old man died. Picture: SEAN MCGOWANThe CFS will hold two community meetings tonight on Kangaroo Island. The first will be held at 5pm at the Vivonne Bay Outdoor Education Centre on South Coast Rd. Another will start at 7pm at the Kingscote Lions Hall.

Fires sparked by storms and driven by strong winds swept the state and blazes raged across Yorke Peninsula, Kangaroo Island and the South-East and the Mallee.

A Yorke Peninsula fire in scrub near Warooka has just flared up again after being contained overnight and residents have been advised to activate bushfire emergency plans.

The fire is 15km southwest of the Warooka and heading towards the town, although there is no immediate threat to property.

Another flare-up from a day-old fireground near Naracoorte was contained a short time ago.

Yesterday, residents in outer metropolitan homes fought side by side with firefighters to save up to 100 homes.

Police have not released the name of the Kangaroo Island victim, who was killed near Vivonne Bay, but said relatives had been told of his death.

Despite a cool change overnight, about 270 firefighters and seven aircraft are still battling seven fires and the CFS has described them as  “stretched”.

Much of the island’s west has been declared an exclusion zone and police say anyone travelling through this area could be in danger.  The fires have burnt out more than 1700ha and killed about 300 sheep.

Lightning yesterday sparked about 40 scrub fires across South Australia and there were more than 100 fire incidents across the state overall , as temperatures topped 35C in many centres, including Adelaide, where the mercury hit 37.5C.

CFS chief officer Euan Ferguson said conditions were extreme.

“These are weather conditions that we only see two or three times a year, very similar to the weather conditions we experienced during the devastating Wangaree fire (in 2005),” he said.

“We’ve got significant resources which were sent over to the island overnight and more resources going over today.”

Residents saved homes in Adelaide’s  southern suburbs and blazes raged on Yorke Peninsula, Kangaroo Island and in the South-East.

Residents in the outer southern suburbs were most at risk from a large blaze at O’Halloran Hill.

They were forced to beat at the flames with sticks and kick dirt to suppress the fire before it reached houses on Morphett Rd.

That fire also forced the closure of the Southern Expressway and Majors Rd.

Frantic efforts save suburban houses

Graeme and Jenny Thomas – of Davey St, one street back from Morphett Rd – told how they heard a helicopter and came rushing outside. Mr Thomas helped the CFS crews put out the fire, which got within 5m of their street.

“Somebody asked for help, a couple of others also came running over and we helped put out the little spots burning near the road,” he said.

Morphett Rd resident Chantal Palamountin, 28, was on the phone at home when she heard a loud bang.

She quickly hung up and ran and grabbed her two children from a nearby bedroom and was about to collect her seven-month-old when she decided to stay put.

“I was all ready to leave when I saw the flames. I wasn’t sure what we should do, but the CFS looked like they had it under control,” she said.

“It was really scary, the kids were screaming, I’ve lived in the area for more than 20 years and have never seen fire get this close.”

A firefighter said the southern suburbs blaze “had the potential to be a very nasty fire but crews did very well to stop it from doing any more damage”.

Wild weather across state

Late yesterday, Adelaide Airport grounded all flights as a massive storm including thunderstorms and lightning strikes rolled across the city.

However, flights had returned to normal by 6.45pm – although flights to and from Sydney were experiencing disruptions because of a large storm over New South Wales.

A  wind gust of 110km/h was recorded at Coober Pedy and another at 93km/h was recorded at Whyalla yesterday afternoon as a strong change passed across the state.

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