Police search homes as Tasmania bushfires continue to rage


Australian police and defence forces searched burnt-out vehicles and homes in the towns worst hit by wildfires on the island of Tasmania, where more than 40 fires continued to rage yesterday.

The blazes began on Thursday on the state’s thinly populated southeastern coast, amid a fierce heatwave and strong winds.

The heat eased over the weekend, slowing the fires, but late yesterday firefighters issued an emergency warning in Taranna, 47km (29 miles) east of the state capital, Hobart, where a fire burning for more than three days threatened residents.

The national weather bureau warned that the relative mildness at the weekend would be a brief reprieve, with extremely hot conditions set to return to much of the country early next week.

Areas devastated

The fires that continue to burn in Tasmania have cut off communities and hampered efforts to search devastated areas.

In the small town of Dunalley, 56km east of Hobart, more than 65 homes and a school have been destroyed. Nearby Boomer Bay and Marion Bay have also suffered damage.

Acting police commissioner Scott Tilyard told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) there were about 100 people with whom authorities are still trying to make contact. It may take days to determine whether the fires have killed anyone during what is the peak holiday season on the island.

“We’re hoping very much along with everyone else that there won’t be [any deaths], but we need to go through the process to confirm that there haven’t been, Tilyard said.

Hottest on record

Tasmania experienced its peak temperature since records began at 41.8 degrees on Friday, when much of mainland Australia sweltered in similar conditions and fires burned across several states.

The heatwave, which began in Western Australia on December 27th and lasted eight days, was the fiercest in more than 80 years in that state. It has spread east across the nation, making it the widest-ranging heatwave in more than a decade, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.Fire crews from Victoria and South Australia headed to Tasmania on Sunday to help fatigued crews there, while fires burned on in mainland states South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales.

Bushfires are a major risk in the Australian summer, which brings extreme heat, dryness, and strong winds. Authorities warned earlier in the summer that much of the country faced extreme fire conditions this season.

The Black Saturday fires, the worst in Australias history, killed 173 people in Victoria in February 2009.

Australias wheat harvest is unlikely to be affected by the fires and hot weather, as the vast majority of this seasons crop has been harvested, analysts said. – (Reuters)