Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Residents flee as deadly Australian wildfires flare

Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse: Several hundred Australians fled their homes Monday as wildfires that killed more than 200 people flared again, destroying at least one home and injuring two firefighters. The deadly combination of strong winds and searing temperatures that whipped up the most deadly fires in Australia's history returned to drive flames toward towns to the east and northwest of Victoria's state capital, Melbourne.

However, conditions eased late Monday, lowering the immediate danger, although authorities said the threat remained with four major fires continuing to burn out of control. The scare occurred as Britain's Princess Anne visited blackened townships north of Melbourne that bore the brunt of firestorms that flared on February 7, claiming at least 210 lives. The official toll increased by one Monday after a resident of Strathewen, where 43 have now perished, died in hospital. The Country Fire Authority (CFA) issued urgent threat warnings to more than a dozen communities, advising residents either to flee or to defend their homes.

…Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) said winds of 50 kilometres (31 miles) an hour made the flames unpredictable. Authorities set up an evacuation centre near the fire at Lilydale, which was housing hundreds of residents, with many more believed to have left their homes to stay with relatives.

…More than 3,500 firefighters were working to control fires still raging in the southeastern state, with conditions forecast to deteriorate again late in the week. Princess Anne, who travelled to Australia to represent Queen Elizabeth II at Sunday's national day of mourning, met volunteer firefighters at Wandong and bushfire survivors at an evacuation centre….

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