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Wildfires rage across Australia amid searing heat

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-01-08

Firefighters struggled to contain scores of wildfires raging across southeast Australia on Tuesday, as officials evacuated national parks and warned that high winds and blistering temperatures had led to "catastrophic" fire conditions.

Firefighters battled scores of wildfires raging across southeast Australia on Tuesday as authorities evacuated national parks and warned that blistering temperatures and high winds had led to “catastrophic” conditions in some areas.

No deaths had been reported, although officials in Tasmania were still trying to find around 100 residents who have been missing since a fire tore through the small town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart, last week, destroying around 90 homes. On Tuesday, police said no bodies were found during preliminary checks of the ruined houses.

“You don’t get conditions worse than this,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. “We are at the catastrophic level and clearly in those areas leaving early is your safest option.”

Catastrophic threat level is the most severe rating applicable.

FRANCE 24’s Australia correspondent, Roger Maynard, reporting from Sydney said, “‘Catastrophic’ is a term only recently introduced, designed to emphasize the extreme danger that people face, and to persuade them to leave their homes and not to stay behind and try to protect their houses from the flames.”

“The temperature here nudged 43 degrees Centigrade…largely unprecedented even by Australian standards,” he said.

“In fact today was the hottest day on average across Australia since records started being taken 140 years ago; the average temperature across the nation was 40.33 degrees.”

“The fire services’ chiefs are saying that it looks like the worst might be over if we can get through the next three or four hours when some cooler southerly winds are due to arrive,” he said.

More than 130 fires were blazing across New South Wales, though only a few dozen houses were under threat by early evening. One fire was threatening about 30 homes near the small town of Cooma, south of the capital of Canberra. Cooma-Monaro shire mayor Dean Lynch told Australia’s Sky News some residents had evacuated to the nearby town of Nimmitabel.

Strong winds were hampering efforts to bring the fires under control. Wind gusts more than 100 kilometers an hour (62 miles per hour) were recorded in some parts of the state.

All state forests and national parks were closed as a precaution and total fire bans were in place with temperatures surpassing 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in some areas.

One volunteer firefighter suffered severe burns to his hands and face while fighting a grass fire near Gundaroo village, about 220 kilometers (138 miles) southwest of Sydney, on Monday. He was flown to a hospital in Sydney for treatment.

Fitzsimmons , the fire commissioner, said the firefighter’s condition had improved on Tuesday, and he should be released from the hospital in the next few days.

Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. In February 2009, hundreds of fires across Victoria state killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-01-08

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