Southeastern Australia firestorm deadliest in country’s history

My goodness….having lived through a similar nightmare last summer, I can certainly empathize:

officials AFP – Firefighters are engulfed in smoke as they battle a bush fire approaching the town of Peats Ridge, north …

HEALESVILLE, Australia – Entire towns have been razed by wildfires raging through southeastern Australia, burning people in their homes and cars in the deadliest blaze in the country’s history. The number of dead Monday stood at 108, a grim toll that rose almost by the hour as officials reached further into the fire zone.

Searing temperatures and wind blasts created a firestorm that swept across a swath of the country’s Victoria state, where at least 750 homes were destroyed and all of the victims died.

“Hell in all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said. “It’s an appalling tragedy for the nation.”

If any of the deadly fires were deliberately lit, “There are no words to describe it other than mass murder,” he said on Nine Network television.

The skies rained ash and trees exploded in the inferno, witnesses said, as temperatures of up 117 F (47 C) combined with blasting winds to create furnace-like conditions.

The town of Marysville and several hamlets in the Kinglake district, both about 50 miles (100 kilometers) north of Melbourne, were utterly devastated.

At Marysville, a winter tourism town that was home to about 800 people, up to 90 percent of buildings were in ruins, witnesses said. Police said two people died there.

“Marysville is no more,” Senior Constable Brian Cross told the AP as he manned a checkpoint Sunday on a road leading into the town.

At least 18 of the deaths were from the Kinglake area, where residents said the fire hit with barely any notice.

Mandy Darkin said she was working at a restaurant “like nothing was going on” until they were suddenly told to go home.

“I looked outside the window and said: ‘Whoa, we are out of here, this is going to be bad,'” Darkin said. “I could see it coming. I just remember the blackness and you could hear it, it sounded like a train.”

Only five houses were left standing out of about 40 in one neighborhood that an Associated Press news crew flew over. Street after street was lined by smoldering wrecks of homes, roofs collapsed inward, iron roof sheets twisted from the heat. The burned-out hulks of cars dotted roads. A church was smoldering, only one wall with a giant cross etched in it remained standing.

Here and there, fire crews filled their trucks from ponds and sprayed down spot fires. There were no other signs of life.

From the air, the landscape was blackened as far as the eye could see. Entire forests were reduced to leafless, charred trunks, farmland to ashes. The Victoria Country Fire Service said some 850 square miles (2,200 square kilometers) were burned out.

Rudd, on a tour of the fire zone, paused to comfort a man who wept on his shoulder, telling him, “You’re still here, mate.”

Police said they were hampered from reaching burned-out areas to confirm details of deaths and property loss. At least 80 people were hospitalized with burns.

On Sunday temperatures in the area dropped to about 77 F (25 C) but along with cooler conditions came wind changes that officials said could push fires in unpredictable directions.

Thousands of exhausted volunteer firefighters were battling about 30 uncontrolled fires Sunday night in Victoria, officials said, though conditions had eased considerably. It would be days before they were brought under control, even if temperatures stayed down, they said.

Residents were repeatedly advised on radio and television announcements to initiate their so-called “fire plan” — whether it be staying in their homes to battle the flames or to evacuate before the roads became too dangerous. But some of the deaths were people who were apparently caught by the fire as they fled in their cars or killed when charred tree limbs fell on their vehicles.

Rudd announced immediate emergency aid of 10 million Australian dollars ($7 million), and government officials said the army would be deployed to help fight the fires and clean up the debris.

Victoria Department of Sustainability and Environment spokesman Geoff Russell said early Monday that 108 deaths had been confirmed.

Australia‘s previous worst fires were in 1983, when blazes killed 75 people and razed more than 3,000 homes in Victoria and South Australia state during “Ash Wednesday.” Seventy-one died and 650 buildings were destroyed in 1939’s “Black Friday” fires.

Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. Government research shows about half of the roughly 60,000 fires each year are deliberately lit or suspicious. Lightning and people using machinery near dry brush are other causes.

Victoria police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe said police suspected some of the fires were set deliberately.

Dozens of fires were also burning in New South Wales state, where temperatures remained high for the third consecutive day. Properties were not under immediate threat.

My prayers go out to those poor folks, that is truly devastating….I have a friend on Last FM who lives in Australia, Im sure he is just sick about this….


~ by irishgrl on February 8, 2009.

2 Responses to “Southeastern Australia firestorm deadliest in country’s history”

  1. Thank you Irishgrl for your thoughts and prayers for those poor souls in Victoria.
    As I said, we are in a neighbouring state to Victoria, and many of our fire fighting volunteers have flown to Victoria to assist the heroes on the fire ground.
    The latest death count I heard was this morning, with 173 confirmed dead. Heroes and heroines every one of them.
    I just pray that the smoke got to them before the flames……
    Thanks again for posting this.
    Your friend,

  2. Glen, I am glad you and yours are safe *hugs*
    Lets hope the jerks who started these blazes are brought to justice.

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