‘Catastrophic’ wildfires ravage Australia

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Firefighters battled scores of wildfires raging across south-east Australia 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 blaze tore through the small town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart, last week, destroying 90 homes.

Yesterday, police said no bodies were found during preliminary checks of the ruined houses.

“We are shaping up for one of the worst fire danger days on record,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. “You don’t get conditions worse than this. 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.

Wildfires have razed 50,000 acres of forests and farmland across southern Tasmania since Friday. In New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, the fires had burned through more than 64,000 acres of land.

Yesterday 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. Mayor Dean Lynch told Australia’s Sky News that some residents had been evacuated to a nearby town.

Strong winds were hampering efforts to bring the fires under control. Wind gusts more than 62mph were recorded in some parts of the state.

All state forests and national parks were closed and total fire bans were in place. Temperatures topped 45C (113F) in some areas.

One firefighter suffered severe hands and face burns while tackling a grass blaze near a village 138 miles south-west of Sydney. He was flown to a hospital in Sydney for treatment.

In February 2009, hundreds of fires in Victoria state killed 173 people and destroyed 2,000 homes.