Two dead as wildfires in Australia pose unprecedented threat
Wildfires razing Australia’s drought-stricken east coast had killed two people, injured about 30 and destroyed more than 150 homes since Friday, officials said yesterday.
About 1,500 firefighters were battling more than 70 fires across Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, with the most intense in the north-east where flames were fanned by strong winds, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
Firefighters yesterday found a body in a burnt car near Glen Innes, he said.
A woman who was found on Friday, unconscious and with serious burns, near Glen Innes died in hospital, he said.
Another seven people have been reported missing.
“We are expecting that number [of missing people] to climb today,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
“There are really grave concerns that there could be more losses or indeed more fatalities.”
More than 30 people including firefighters received treatment for burns and one patient suffered a cardiac arrest, he said.
Damage assessment teams have yet to reach some devastated areas, the Rural Fire Ser
vice said. Residents could not yet return because of the dangers of fire, smoke and loose asbestos in the rubble, it said.
Hundreds of people abandoned their homes along a 500-kilometre strip of the eastern seaboard from the Queensland state border south to Forster, a town 300km north of Sydney.
Many spent the night in evacuation centres while some slept in cars.
In Queensland, more than 30 wildfires raged yesterday.
At least one house was lost, a firefighter suffered a broken leg and 6,000 residents were moved from three communities in the state’s south-east, Police Inspector Rob Graham said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Australia to expect more bad news from the fire zones.
In the New South Wales town of Taree, more than 300 people sought shelter overnight in a social club.
“It was pretty scary,” said Morgan Stewart, chief executive of Club Taree. “We’re hearing lots of stories of lost houses, lost property, goods and effects, animals, land. It’s going to be horrific.”
Peter Lean spent the night on the roof of his house in the town of Wallabi Point, extinguishing burning embers carried on strong winds.
“I’ve not seen the sky so red since 2000,” he said. “We’ve got winds blowing, they’re circling, it’s like a cyclone.”
The fire danger reached unprecedented levels in New South Wales on Friday, when 17 fires were burning at the most extreme danger rating, known as the Emergency Warning Level.
“I can only recall a figure of less than 10 that we [previously] got to, which was an extraordinary event in years past,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
“The fact that we have 17 at once yesterday and another nine burning at Watch and Act [level] is a magnitude that we simply haven’t seen before, commanding so much attention, so much priority, so much competition for resources and need to get to different communities,” he said.
Three fires were burning at the highest danger rating by yesterday.
The annual Australian fire season, which peaks during the southern hemisphere summer, started early this year after an unusually warm and dry winter.
More than 30 wildfires raged yesterday in Queensland while 17 fires in New South Wales were given the most extreme danger rating