Wildfires rage across Australia amid blistering heat; 100 still missing
A charred vehicle sits near the remains of a home destroyed by a wildfire between Dunalley and Boomer Bay, east of the Tasmanian capital of Hobart, Australia, on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013. (AP / Chris Kidd)
Published Monday, January 7, 2013 9:24AM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 7, 2013 11:15PM EST
SYDNEY, Australia -- Firefighters battled scores of wildfires raging across southeast Australia on Tuesday with officials evacuating national parks and warning that blistering temperatures and high winds had led to "catastrophic" fire conditions in some areas.
Thousands of firefighters were on standby across the nation's most populous state of New South Wales, where fire authorities said wildfire conditions were at catastrophic threat levels -- the most severe rating available -- in parts of the state. All state forests and national parks were closed as a precaution and total fire bans were in place with temperatures expected to reach 45 degrees Celsius in some areas.
"We are shaping up for one of the worst fire danger days on record," New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. "You don't get conditions worse than this. We are at the catastrophic level and clearly in those areas leaving early is your safest option."
No deaths had been reported, although officials in Tasmania were still trying to find around 100 residents who have been missing since a fire tore through the small town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart, last week, destroying around 90 homes. On Tuesday, police said no bodies were found during preliminary checks of the ruined houses.
Wildfires have razed 20,000 hectares of forests and farmland across southern Tasmania since Friday.
More than 100 fires were blazing across New South Wales on Tuesday, though only a handful of homes were under threat as of early afternoon. Officials were bracing for winds up to 80 kilometres per hour later in the day that could fan the flames in unpredictable directions.
One volunteer firefighter suffered severe burns to his hands and face while fighting a grass fire near Gundaroo village, about 220 kilometres southwest of Sydney, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said Monday. He was flown to a hospital in Sydney for treatment.
Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. In February 2009, hundreds of fires across Victoria state killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.