Wed, Dec 13, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Bushfires continue ruinous sweep of southern Australia

AGENCIES , CANBERRA AND HOBART, AUSTRALIA

Bushfires burned across four Australian states yesterday, destroying houses and blackening an area larger than Luxembourg, with one major fire front stretching 250km.

A fire on the southern island state of Tasmania struck the east coast town of Scamander, destroying 18 houses, although hard-pressed firefighters had little time to assess the damage as gusting winds opened fresh fronts.

"You could hear houses exploding and trees going down. You could see the flames roaring up over the hill," resident Sue Brown told local media.

Authorities said blazes were threatening the town of St Marys, where many of the 600 residents were bracing to save homes from fires burning through scrub 3km away.

"It's not going to be long before St Marys is going to be impacted on by the ember shower and then the fire itself not long behind that," Tasmania Fire Service spokesman Danny Reid said.

In Victoria, bushfires sparked by lightning strikes continued to burn in rugged bushland in the northeast of the state, destroying more than 280,000 hectares.

The fires levelled a ski lodge at the Mount Buffalo resort, which is still recovering from fierce 2003 blazes.

Two of the largest fires had linked to form a 250km front, although cooler weather was assisting a 2,000-strong force of firefighters, troops and 45 water-bombing aircraft before the forecast return of soaring temperatures later in the week.

Thousands of firefighters struggled to contain dozens of wildfires burning across southern Australia on Tuesday, sending residents fleeing their homes and destroying a popular ski lodge.

More than 3,000 firefighters were working to contain fires in four states, with the worst blazes centered in Victoria and the southern island state of Tasmania.

"Towards the end of the week we will be back in to having higher fire danger indexes and potentially extreme fire conditions," Department of Sustainability and Environment spokesman Craig Ferguson told local radio.

In New South Wales state, a blaze lit by firefighters to rob bushfires of fuel leapt containment lines to destroy an ancient protected Blue Gum forest in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

And southwest of Canberra, firefighters were struggling to contain a wildfire fanned by strong winds near the mountain town of Tumut.

Another bushfire was also reported to have started west of Perth in Western Australia.

Smaller fires were also burning yesterday in New South Wales and Western Australia, where officials were urging residents to evacuate their homes as the blaze approached the capital, Perth.

In Tasmania, firefighters were frantically digging containment lines in a bid to stop a fire that raged through the northeastern town of Scamander late on Monday, razing at least 14 homes, media reports said.

No deaths were immediately reported, but some media reports said one person had been burned.

Reid said firefighters had been helpless to stop the blaze amid 120kph wind gusts.

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