Saturday, February 07, 2009

Dozens Die In Blistering Heat And Firestorms

Screen capture detail from an uncredited photo off the ABC News front page

UPDATED : The death toll of the country Victorian bushfires as of Sunday night are 100 dead, dozens injured, 1000 homes, properties, businesses destroyed. Full Report Is Here.


The people of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia were warned the fires and the intense heat on Saturday were going to be deadly, and now terrible headlines hitting around the world confirm the worst.

At least 40 people in the country Victoria bushfires are believed to have burned to death, as of midnight Saturday, and there may be as many as 50 more dead from the effects of the 46-48 Celsius temps in parts of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. At least 100 homes have been lost in country Victoria, but fire crews and rescuers have still not reached a number of towns and villages hit by the fires.

Firecrews are taking on hundreds of blazes and firefronts across Victoria, fighting in what the Victorian premier, John Brumby has called "the worst fire conditions in history". Fires in New South Wales have yet proved to be as deadly, or as widespread, but Sunday is expected to produce record temperatures and high winds across areas already ablaze.

There aren't enough firefighters or fire trucks to deal with the firestorms in Victoria. A terrified man called in to the ABC to report that the Victorian town of Kingslake was "engulfed in flames." Calls for help went unanswered, fire fighters were busy elsewhere battling dozens of blazes.

Screen capture detail from a photo by AAP's Simon Mossman

This is just incredible :

Fires are becoming so big that they are creating their own weather.

Senior weather forecaster, Terry Ryan, says thunderstorms are forming over fire-affected parts of west Gippsland.

"We call it pyrocumulus, where all the ash coming out of the fire causes lifting and convection, and can cause a thunderstorm-looking top," he said.

"You can get thunderstorms and lightning coming out of the top of the fire basically, and that can add to the fire's effect, a bit of a nasty feedback effect that can occasionally happen."

And today - with temperatures in parts of New South Wales, Victoria and Adelaide to be even hotter than Saturday - may prove to be even more tragic, more destructive, more deadly.

* Live streams of emergency broadcasts for Melbourne and country Victoria on ABC Radio here.

* Dedicated ABC News page on the Victorian fires here

UPDATE : More on that ABC News phone in report that the Victorian town of Kinglake has been destroyed in the fires. Six people are now confirmed to have died in the Kinglake fires :

Resident Peter Mitchell told ABC Local Radio the town was at the mercy of fires which swept through it after a wind direction change.

Mr Mitchell said there was no-one to fight the fire because fire crews were already fighting other fires across the state.

He was forced to leave his home to shelter at the local fire station.

"The whole of Kinglake is ablaze, I live a couple of [kilometres] out of town, I heard explosions, by the time I got to the road there were fires everywhere," he said.

"[There is] flame everywhere, trees exploding, gas tanks exploding, buildings on fire, it's very, very, very serious.

"I can't quite see down into the main stretch of town, but there's a lot of flame coming up from there, so I presume most of the town is going up."

Denise was heading home from her mother-in-law's house just outside Kinglake when she was forced to turn back as fires bore down on the town.

She was spared, but others were not so lucky. "The whole town is gone," she said.

She said her mother-in-law's house was surrounded by flames. "Everything around us is burning.

"Trees are burning, things are blowing up, there are a lot of houses burnt to the ground. A lot of houses ... "

UPDATE : Melbourne just experienced it's hottest day on record, according to the Herald Sun : 46.4 degrees. When the heatwave broke, in the late afternoon, temperatures plunged 17 degrees, in one hour.