Thu, Jan 18, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Australian wildfires raze houses and cut power to 200,000

AP , MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Wildfires destroyed eight houses and cut electricity lines in southern Australia, plunging much of Victoria state into chaos as hundreds of thousands were left without power, a fire official said yesterday.

A fire caused by a lightning strike west of Melbourne destroyed one home on Tuesday, while seven others were razed in a massive blaze that has blackened 27,000 hectares in the state's northeast, said Pat Groenhout, a Victorian emergency spokesman. There were no reported injuries.

The northeast fire cut a main electricity circuit on Tuesday, plunging some 200,000 homes and businesses into darkness and affecting hundreds of traffic signals and suburban train services. Several people were caught in elevators when power went out in some buildings and had to be rescued, Metropolitan Ambulance Service spokesman Phil Cullen said.

The power was restored early yesterday, but Victorian Premier Steve Bracks urged residents to conserve electricity as temperatures were set to exceed 40oC this week.

"This is the worst bush fire conditions we have ever had in Victoria's history because it is going to go on and it is going to get worse," Bracks told reporters yesterday. "We have never encountered this in Victoria before."

Meanwhile, residents were being evacuated from a resort community in the Snowy Mountains of neighboring New South Wales state, where firefighters and six water-bombing aircraft were struggling to contain a blaze, the Rural Fire Service said.

More than 10,000km2 of Victorian forest and farmland has been destroyed since the start of the southern hemisphere summer, when soaring temperatures and gusty winds often combine to spur the sometimes deadly blazes.

Nine people died in fires on South Australia state's Eyre Peninsula in January 2005. Eight of them died in their cars as they tried to flee the approaching blaze. In January 2003, more than 500 houses were destroyed and four people killed when a huge fire tore through the national capital, Canberra.

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