Bushfires ravage Australian communities
18 October 2013, 12:34
Winmalee - Residents faced scenes of devastation on Friday after bushfires
ravaged communities and destroyed "hundreds" of homes in southeastern
Australia, leaving one man dead with dozens of blazes still burning out of
Cooler temperatures and a drop in wind were offering firefighters some
relief but 94 fires were still raging across the state of New South Wales.
NSW Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said that despite the
cooler conditions the situation was still "very active, very dynamic, very
"We are going to... continue to save life and to protect as much
property as possible, but at the same time slowly take advantage of the weather
conditions that are more favourable than was otherwise presented
yesterday," he said, adding that 86 000ha had been burnt out so far.
Several major blazes fanned by high, erratic winds in unseasonably warm
weather ripped through communities in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney on
Thursday with whole streets razed.
One fatality has been reported so far - a 63-year-old man who died from a
heart attack as he defended his home in the Central Coast, north of Sydney.
"That's the worst that anyone wants to happen and we send our sympathy
to his family," said state Premier Barry O'Farrell, adding that two
firefighters were in hospital with one undergoing an operation.
Hundreds of residents spent the night in evacuation centres and awoke on Friday
to confront the extent of the disaster.
In the town of Winmalee, Jordie Cox said it had been a frightening
"I've lived in Winmalee since I was four and my parents always said to
us during fire season that our house would be safe because we were surrounded
by other houses so others would have to burn down before it got to us,"
she told ABC television.
"But we were pretty much the last house standing - all the houses
around us burnt down."
Ron Fuller was one of those who lost his home in Winmalee, a town with a
population of about 6 000 located 80km inland from Sydney.
"We've had a number of fires through here before but this was an
extraordinary fire. The speed was extraordinary, it just raced through this
whole area, took out some houses, left other ones standing," he said.
Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill said the enormity of the catastrophe was
only now being realised.
"I think people who lost their homes yesterday are hitting reality today,"
he told the broadcaster.
"You can see the devastation on their faces. It's very, very
In a tweet, the Rural Fire Service said crews were assessing the damage
across the state street by street.
"It appears there may be hundreds of homes destroyed," the service
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, himself a volunteer firefighter, was due to
visit some of the worst-affected areas later Friday while warning "there
has already been loss of life, and we fear more".
"Australia is a country that is prone to natural disaster but every
time it strikes it hurts, and we grieve for those who are now hurting because
of what has happened in New South Wales," he said.
O'Farrell praised the response from fire crews, many of whom are local
volunteers battling the blazes as their own homes go up in flames.
"I think the planning, preparation and response has been some of the
best we've seen," he said, calling the fires "some of the worst we
have experienced around Sydney in living memory".
"We're in for a long, tough summer," he added.
Wildfires are common in Australia's summer months between December and
February, and authorities are expecting a rough season this year due to low
rainfall in the winter and forecasts of hot, dry weather ahead.