Homes razed as bush fires rage in Australia

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 18 2018 04:15 PM

Homes razed as bush fires rage in Australia 1
Firefighters use water to put out spot fires near a farm on the outskirts of the town of Cobden, located south west of Melbourne, Australia Sunday. David Crosling, AAP via Reuters

MEBOURNE - Homes were razed, cattle killed and large swathes of land burnt Sunday as bush and grass fires rage in Australia amid hot and blustery conditions, with residents fleeing flame-filled red skies.

Dozens of blazes in western and southwestern Victoria state began on Saturday and a change in wind direction early Sunday worsened the situation.

Some 40,000 hectares have been damaged, and "hundreds of beef and dairy cattle will be lost as a result of these fires", Victoria's Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley told reporters Sunday.

Up to 12 homes were "impacted", he added, with broadcaster ABC reporting they were "destroyed".

"We've got fires, major fires, running. They will get larger in size before we get control of these," he added, as the weather bureau predicted peak gusts of up to 110 kph (70 mph).

"No significant injuries, no deaths (in) a very dynamic environment, I would say they (local communities) have done exceptionally well."

Andrew Morrow, the local fire controller at Colac in western Victoria, said two of the bigger fires measuring 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) and 6,500 hectares were being blown east from the wind changes.

"We know there's a significant number of properties that the fire has impacted," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Residents living near one of the worst-hit areas -- the small town of Terang some 200 kilometers (124 miles) southwest of Melbourne -- were told by authorities it was "too late to leave" and they must "take shelter indoors immediately".

Thousands of homes were left without power and other regions issued with evacuation orders, with fears some of the separate fires could merge in the changing winds.

Elle Moyle was hosting a friend's wedding at a farm in Gazette when a bush fire raged towards the property.

"We smelled the smoke at the venue and within 10 minutes the sky was completely red," she told the ABC.

"The flames were only 100 meters away... the winds were crazy," Moyle said, adding that guests had to shelter in a stable before they managed to escape on a bus.

"We did our best to keep everyone safe and get them out of there but it was very touch and go."

The dramatic scenes came on a weekend of extreme weather in Australia with the northern city of Darwin hit by Category 2 Cyclone Marcus. It brought down trees and power lines, but no injuries or serious damage was reported.

The system was the strongest to hit the city in three decades, according to authorities, with clean-up efforts underway.

The storm is now moving west towards several remote island and coastal communities.