Australian bush fires destroy 30 homes in worst conditions since 2009

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 3:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 8:58am

More than 30 homes have been razed in the worst fire conditions Australia has seen since a 2009 inferno killed 173 people.

Flames were threatening Melbourne, the country's second-largest city, officials said yesterday. Hot, dry winds and soaring temperatures fanned scores of major blazes across the southeast of the nation on Sunday, with the state of Victoria sweltering through its worst fire risk weather in five years.

"They were ferocious fires, they ran hard, they hit homes," said fire commissioner Craig Lapsley.

The emergency came exactly five years after the so-called Black Saturday firestorm devastated the state, flattening whole towns in what was Australia's deadliest natural disaster of the modern era.

Victoria state premier Dennis Napthine said it had been the worst fire danger day since Black Saturday, with more than 30 homes confirmed lost so far across the state.

"At this stage we have no evidence of loss of life, which is a great effort by the firefighters and all emergency services, and at this stage we have no evidence of serious injury," Napthine said. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the government stood ready "to do all we reasonably can to ensure that people get the help they need in these difficult, difficult hours and days".

Hundreds of people spent the night in evacuation shelters after being forced to flee their homes.

A major open-cut coal mine was ablaze, with a nearby power station in the path of one fire. Napthine said emergency crews were working "very, very hard in that area to protect those strategic assets".

Six blazes remained at emergency level yesterday including a 40-kilometre front on the outskirts of Melbourne, with tens of thousands of hectares scorched.

At least 12 of Sunday's fires were thought by police to have been deliberately lit.

Residents described houses "exploding" into flames, with one woman saying it was like "the whole world was alight".

Fire crews said they saved about 550 properties from an blaze at suburban Keilor near Melbourne Airport.

"It was very hard for us to initially get that fire to stop due to the fact that the winds were blowing up towards the airport," said Rob Purcell of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. "But we had great firefighters who did a brilliant job in saving a huge amount of assets."

At Warrandyte resident Brenda Ireland described a "huge ball of flames just rushing across our backyard".