'We saw tornadoes of fire coming at us'
Published 10/01/2013 | 05:00
TASMANIA was hoping that a spell of cooler weather could help thousands of firefighters battle more than 130 wildfires.
The blazes have, so far, destroyed more than 100 properties.
As the flames abate, if only momentarily, stories of heroism and extraordinary survival have begun to emerge.
A grandfather saved his family by huddling under a jetty for three hours while their home in Tasmania was destroyed by wildfires.
Tim Holmes fled his burning home near the town of Dunalley with his wife Tammy and five grandchildren, aged two to 11, and took shelter in the sea beneath a wooden jetty.
"We saw tornadoes of fire just coming across towards us," he said.
"The difficulty was there was so much smoke and embers and there was probably eight to 12 inches of air above the water," he said.
"So we were all just heads; water up to our chins just trying to breathe because the atmosphere was so incredibly toxic," he added.
Mr Holmes eventually found a small dinghy and took the family further offshore. Bonnie Walker, mother of the five children, told how she was "bracing myself to lose my children and my parents", as she described her experience of being cut off from her family.
Ms Walker, who was at a funeral, received a message saying that her parents and children "were surrounded by fire". She was later shown a photo of her family under the local jetty.
"It's still quite upsetting to see the image, it's all of my, our, five children underneath the jetty huddled up neck-deep in sea water, which is cold," she said.
The escape occurred during a record-breaking nationwide heatwave that has led to catastrophic fire conditions and caused bitumen roads to melt in outback towns, where temperatures have exceeded 45C.
While a cool change assisted the fight against the fires across the country's south-east, the state of Western Australia received news that a cyclone is due to hit within days.
In the most populous state of New South Wales, more than 130 wildfires are still burning and threatening towns.
But the dip in the temperature helped fire crews to contain blazes before the heatwave conditions return on the weekend.
Thousands of livestock are believed to have died in the fires and almost 500,000 acres of bushland have been razed.
"We're not by any stretch of the imagination out of the woods," said Gavin Freeman, from the Tasmania Fire Service.
Outback towns across central Australia have been struggling to cope with the sweltering heat.
In the small South Australian town of Oodnadatta, residents reported that the roads have been melting. Locals endured temperatures of 49.2C yesterday and joked that if the thermometer dipped to 42C – the hottest in Sydney – they would wear jumpers. (© Daily Telegraph, London)