Tue, Jan 24, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Firefighter killed as wildfires blaze across Australia

DEVASTATION With livestock losses from the fires expected to reach tens of thousands, farmers prepared to cull thousands more injured animals

AP , SYDNEY AND MELBOURNE

One firefighter was killed and three others injured while battling one of several wildfires blazing across southern Australia, police said yesterday.

The fire officers were heading toward a blaze around 90km northeast of the Victoria state capital, Melbourne, when their tanker rolled over at an intersection, police spokesman Greg Jenkins said.

The three injured firefighters were taken to a local hospital with minor injuries, he said.

About 9,000 firefighters yesterday battled to contain the more than two dozen fires burning out of control in southern Australia as farmers prepared to cull thousands of livestock injured in the flames, officials said.

Police investigated two bodies found in a charred vehicle to determine whether the deaths were linked to the wildfires, and a helicopter pilot helping the firefighters was injured when his aircraft caught fire and he was forced into a crash-landing, police and media reports said.

"We are trying to ascertain whether the two people were victims of a car accident or died as a result of the fires in that area," police spokeswoman Carla Coslovich said.

Hundreds of firefighters were assessing damage to scorched areas near the Grampians mountains -- about 250km west of Melbourne -- where about 100,000 hectares of land were destroyed, according to Graham Fountain, deputy chief of the Victoria Country Fire Authority.

A helicopter pilot who was assisting with firefighting efforts in eastern Victoria was injured after he made a crash landing when his aircraft caught fire, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported. He was taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Devastated farmers yesterday began the grim task of scouring their blackened paddocks for dead and injured livestock.

Sheep and cattle losses from the fires were expected to reach the tens of thousands.

Steven Cox, who works at a general store near the Grampians, said several farmers had come to his store stocking up on ammunition before heading out to their fields to cull injured livestock.

"They're coming in here nearly in tears, it's terrible out there, unbelievable. Everything's black," Cox said.

Rancher Jandy Slattery said she expected around 80 percent of her farm's 12,500 sheep to be lost in the fires

"The fire came through that quickly, it wasn't here and then it was. We have to go through now and look at [the stock] to see what can be saved and what can't, but I imagine the losses will be quite severe," she said.

Around 9,000 firefighters have responded to 110 separate incidents since the first flares were reported on Thursday, the Country Fire Authority said. So far, the fires have caused an estimated A$130,000 (US$97,994) in damage.

In the town of Anakie, 150km southwest of Melbourne, 20 buildings were damaged or destroyed, including three homes, the Country Fire Authority said.

Fires were also burning in South Australia, Western Australia and the southern island state of Tasmania.

Around 100 firefighters were battling an arson blaze that was threatening a small town about 100km southwest of Perth in Western Australia state.

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