Tue, Feb 08, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Australian homes razed as wildfires burn out of control

THE UNLUCKY COUNTRY:One firefighter is in hospital after he was hurt while defending properties, but so far there have been no fatalities or serious injuries

AFP, PERTH, AUSTRALIA

Wildfires in western Australia have destroyed at least 41 homes, officials said yesterday, stressing that the number could rise with the flames roaring out of control.

Heat and high winds triggered by last week’s ferocious Cyclone Yasi fed two major blazes in the west coast city of Perth at the weekend, with strong gusts grounding water bombing aircraft and creating fast and erratic flames.

“Unfortunately it appears that we have lost 41 houses at this stage totally and 19 partially damaged,” fire chief Craig Hynes said.

“That number could increase,” he added as damage assessment teams fanned out.

Hynes said there had been no serious injuries or fatalities at this stage, but cautioned that authorities were yet to bring the fires under control.

Both were burning in heavily vegetated areas on the city outskirts in rugged terrain that was difficult to access except by air.

“We’re still calling both fires uncontrolled and we won’t be able to let people back into the areas due to safety reasons,” he said. “We are very concerned about the safety of the fire grounds and we are doing our best to make sure that there are no injuries. Life is our priority.”

One firefighter was in hospital with injuries sustained while he was trying to defend properties, but his condition was not serious. Hynes said emergency officials had readied themselves for “remarkable” winds as Yasi, a top-category storm that ripped into Australia’s northeast coast on Thursday, moved toward the west coast as a low pressure system.

Stretched crews would get some reprieve as the winds, surging at top speeds of 75kph, eased yesterday afternoon, though Hynes said easterly gusts would “remain a concern.”

The weather bureau said Yasi was expected to cross into Western Australia state later yesterday, drenching the red desert center with intense rains.

Hundreds of homes were flattened and at least A$500 million (US$506.9 million) of crops wiped out when Yasi made landfall near the tourist city of Cairns last Thursday, the second tropical cyclone to batter northeastern Australia in a week.

The storms followed severe flooding which swamped tens of thousands of homes and killed more than 30 people in the region.

The extreme weather has been linked to an extremely strong La Nina climate pattern, usually characterized by increased flooding and cyclones for the vast southern continent.

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