Australia — Tasmanian police say they are not able to confirm reports of a death in a huge bushfire in the state’s south that has already destroyed homes, a school and an RSL club.
They say up to 65 buildings could have been damaged or destroyed in the small community of Dunalley, 56km southeast of Hobart.
They include the local school, RSL club, service station and houses, ABC television reported.
Around 15 houses at nearby Boomer Bay could also have been lost as the impact of catastrophic fire conditions in southern Tasmania begins to emerge. Advertisement
Tasmania Police commissioner Scott Tilyard said no death had been confirmed.
“It really has the status of a rumour at this stage,” he told the ABC.
But as a police boat was being sent to rescue people taking refuge on the waterfront at the top of the Tasman Peninsula, damage to property was becoming clearer.
“Reports are of anything up to about 65 buildings may have been impacted by the fire and that is the area where there has been an unconfirmed report that possibly there might have been one life lost,” Mr Tilyard said.
Around 50 people were awaiting the arrival of the police vessel to help them evacuate but were safe, he said.
Huge plumes of smoke were visible from Hobart on Friday as the island capital sweltered through its hottest day on record.
Accompanying winds whipped up the two largest blazes that had started on Thursday; at Forcett, near Dunalley, and Lake Repulse near Mt Field National Park northwest of Hobart.
Tasmania Fire Service (TFS) Chief Officer Mike Brown said conditions on Friday had reached the catastrophic level in the rating system developed after the Black Saturday fires in Victoria.
“We reached catastrophic fire danger ratings at times during this afternoon,” Chief Officer Brown told reporters.
“I don’t think we’re quite out of the woods yet.
On a day Hobart hit a top temperature of 41.8C – smashing the previous record of 40.8 set in 1976 – up to 40 fires were burning around the state.
The TFS used its emergency phone warning system to ask residents to leave the affected areas and police said around 80 per cent had chosen to go.
Near Dunalley, the TFS said it was too late to leave the communities of Connellys Marsh or Primrose Sands.
Those at Connellys Marsh were being advised the nearby beach was a safer option for them.
Carlton River Road was considered impassable and Primrose Sands residents were also being told to head to the nearby beach.
The popular Port Arthur tourist area was cut off after police closed the Arthur Highway, isolating the Tasman Peninsula.
The second major fire, which authorities suspect was started by a campfire, is affecting communities including Broad River, Jones River and Ellendale.
Late on Friday afternoon, the TFS upgraded a warning for another fire near Bicheno in that area.
Campers were being evacuated and residents were being encouraged to act on their bushfire plans or leave.
A large grass fire at Epping Forest in the state’s north was also causing concern.
A mild southerly change was due in Hobart around midnight after conditions considered worse than 2006/7 when houses were lost on the state’s east coast.
The change is unlikely to bring rain but could ignite more fires with lightning strikes, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
“Lighter winds tomorrow and milder temperatures and higher relative humidities will be of help,” senior forecaster Malcolm Downing told AAP on Friday.
Hobart hit 41.8C at 4.05pm (AEDT), its highest temperature since record keeping started in 1883.
Authorities say smoke is likely to be visible for several hours and people sensitive to it should stay indoors.
The failure was in the forest areas.Advertisement
Following a 10-year strategy, ACT fire managers have created a mosaic across the landscape of different fuel levels, burning at every opportunity.
But forests have been too wet to burn this spring and the past two summers.
A network of 500 fire trails and strategic burns along the north-west urban edge, heavy grazing and extra grass slashing will create a fortress for the territory which forecasters say faces a higher than average risk this summer.
After a fire-fuelled tornado in January 2003 killed four Canberrans and frightened thousands more, CSIRO fire expert Phil Cheney told the subsequent inquiry the fire’s penetration into urban areas under extreme conditions did not reflect a failure of fuel management on the urban interface.