independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Man killed in Australia wildfires

Fires smolder in the township of Seaton, Australia (AP)

Wildfires raging across southern Australia have killed one man and destroyed several homes.

Police said the man's body was found in a burned-out car near the small town of Seaton, about 120 miles east of Melbourne in Victoria state.

The man is the first person confirmed killed in the hundreds of fires which have been raging across the continent since the Australian summer began.

A 61-year-old firefighter was also found dead on Sunday, a few miles from a backburning operation in the island state of Tasmania. Officials have not yet determined how he died.

Wildfires are common throughout Australia in the summer, although record-high temperatures and dry conditions in many areas have added to the ferocity of some of the blazes.

Several exhausted firefighters in the country's most populous state of New South Wales collapsed from the heat, with temperatures soaring past 40C in many areas.

Sydney hit a record 45.8C, beating the previous high of 45.3C set in 1939. The city's withering heat was temporary, though, quickly plummeting into the 30s within an hour. Some relief was in sight, with cooler temperatures and rain predicted across much of the country's south-east for the weekend. Nevertheless, many of the fires were expected to continue burning for weeks.

"It's a very dangerous environment we're experiencing today," Victoria country fire authority operations manager Bill Johnstone said. "Given the conditions, it's probably as bad as it can get."

Four holiday homes and one residential house were destroyed near Seaton in a fire which rapidly spread over 111,000 acres (45,000 hectares). Fire officials later lowered the alert level for the blaze and were working to contain it. "We're certainly here for a very protracted fire fight," said Mr Johnstone. "We could be here for days, possibly weeks."

Two houses were destroyed in a fire in southern New South Wales's Bega Valley, the state Rural Fire Service said. More than 100 fires were blazing across New South Wales, though only two were threatening homes.

Press Association

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