Three dead and more than 150 homes destroyed as Australian wildfires rage
The annual fire season which peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer has started early after an unusually warm and dry winter.
At least three people are dead, several remain missing and dozens have been injured as wildfires continue to raze Australia’s drought-stricken east coast.
Officials also said more than 150 homes have been destroyed.
Around 1,500 firefighters were battling more than 70 fires across Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, with the most intense in the north-east where flames were fanned by strong winds, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
Firefighters found the body of a man on Saturday in a burned car near Glen Innes, about 350 miles north of Sydney, he added.
A woman who was found on Friday unconscious and with serious burns near Glen Innes has died in hospital.
Her daughter-in-law Chrystal Harwood identified the victim as 69-year-old grandmother Vivian Chaplain, who was alone in her house in the small community of Wytaliba when it was engulfed in flames.
A third body was found on Saturday afternoon in a burned building at Johns River, north of Taree, a police statement said. That victim died in a fire hundreds of miles from Glen Innes.
Another seven people have been reported missing in the vicinity of the same fire.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Australia to expect more bad news from the fire zones.
He told reporters in Sydney: “The devastating and horrific fires that we have seen particularly in New South Wales but also in Queensland have been absolutely chilling.”
The annual Australian fire season which peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer has started early after an unusually warm and dry winter.
More than 30 people including firefighters received medical treatment for burns and one patient had a cardiac arrest.
At least 150 homes had been destroyed since Friday, and damage assessment teams had yet to reach some devastated areas. Residents could not yet return because of the dangers of fire, smoke and loose asbestos in the rubble, the Rural Fire Service said.
Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes along a 310-mile swathe of the eastern seaboard from the Queensland state border south to Forster.
Forster is a town 190 miles north of Sydney, Australia’s largest city. Many spent the night in evacuation centres while some slept in cars.
In Queensland, around 50 wildfires were raging on Saturday. At least one house was lost, a firefighter suffered a broken leg and 6,000 residents were evacuated from three communities in the state’s southeast.
The Insurance Council of Australia declared the wildfire crisis a “catastrophe”, meaning insurance claims will be given priority.
In the New South Wales town of Taree, more than 300 people evacuated overnight to a social club, including Club Taree’s chief executive Morgan Stewart.
“It was pretty scary,” Mr Stewart said. “We’re hearing lots of stories of lost houses, lost property, goods and effects, animals, land. It’s going to be horrific, I think.”
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