At least 14 killed in Australian fires

Firefighters at Warrugal. Photo by Wayne Hawkins, The Age.

Police said on Saturday that at least 14 people and perhaps as many as 40 have been killed in wildfires in southeast Australia. Multiple fires, more than 40, pushed by strong winds and record high temperatures, have destroyed at least 100 homes. In one fire alone, 24,000 acres and 30 homes burned overnight. The temperature in Victoria on Saturday was 115 F. According to the Associated Press, the fires are being fought by 30,000 firefighters.

This fire situation will rival Ash Wednesday, February 16, 1983, when more than 100 fires in Victoria and South Australia burned 518,000 acres and claimed 47 lives, including those of 15 firefighters.

Australian firefighters at a bushfire in Bunyip state forest near Tonimbuk, Victoria. Photograph: Andrew Brownbill/EPA

Similar to what happened on Ash Wednesday, the number of acres burned increased dramatically after a wind change late in the day which caused the already large but narrow wind-driven fires to change direction and become larger and wide. The winds were gusting up to 60 mph when the wind direction was changing.

A Country Fire Authority Sector Commander evaluates a fire in Bunyip State Park. Photo: AFP

Of the 14 confirmed victims, police said some of them lost their lives in their cars while trying to evacuate in front of the fires. Authorities advised residents to either leave well ahead of the fires or stay and defend a property well-prepared for ember attack.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Firefighter Kevin Davy earlier told of his horror as the ferocious Kinglake fire rushed over his crew’s truck while they worked to protect a house.

“It swept up the hill in a second. There was nothing we could do,” Mr Davy said.

“I’m still not sure how we made it out. Two of the blokes didn’t even have time to get into the cabin, they were on the blind side of the truck. If I hadn’t have screamed out they wouldn’t have made it out alive.”

Fifty houses were reportedly lost in the Bendigo area in the so-called Redesdale blaze.

Country Fire Authority firefighters, Bunyip State Park. Photo: AFP

Here is some video footage of the fires.

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UPDATE @ 11:00 a.m. MT, Feb. 7

The fires are in the three states of Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia.
View Larger Map

Links with more information:

  • The Country Fire Authority site lists the fires–almost too many to count–that have started in the last two days. There must be at least 150 fires on the list.
  • CFA news Twitter
  • The Australia Broadcasting Company
Photo: rport

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UPDATE @ 4:26 p.m. MT, Feb. 7

According to couriermail:

All 14 of the confirmed deaths were in towns northwest of Melbourne – six people in one car were killed at Kinglake, four died at Wandong, three at Strathewen and one in Clonbinane.

Police spokesman Senior Constable Wayne Wilson said the clarification on a final death toll would take time.

“We have the official toll at 14. Obviously under the conditions we expect it to go higher, (but) we’ve got to go through these places in the daylight, where we can search them properly,” he told ABC Radio.