Raging brushfires in parts of the Australian island of Tasmania have destroyed nearly 100 homes, stranding thousands of residents and claiming at least one life.
Drought and a massive heat wave has caused an estimated 40 brushfires to ignite around various parts of Tasmania. In Dunalley, which is 57 km (35.5 miles) east of the Tasmanian capital of Hobart, wildfires have destroyed at least 80 buildings, approximately 30 percent of the structures in the small town. Besides numerous homes being destroyed, the fires also destroyed the town's school, police station and bakery.
Businesses are burned to the ground by brushfires in the town of Dunalley, Tasmania.
Tony Young, a Dunalley resident told ABC Radio:
"All I could do was drive the car out of the shed, drive across the other side of the road and stand back and look at the whole place just being engulfed in flames, just like a movie.
The grass around the trees and the trees just went off. They were like firecrackers - 20, 30 feet high, the flames"
In Bicheno, an estimated 15 homes have been ravaged by the fires.
According to Radio Australia, the fires have forced the closure of several roads on the island, including Coles Bay Road and the Tasman Highway, isolating Coles Bay and Swanwick.
Forcett fire at about 4pm from the air at Hobart Airport
People fleeing the raging fires are taking refuge in beach-side towns on the Tasman Peninsula. Approximately 2,000 were forced to take refuge in the city of Nubeen. Nearly 700 more are reportedly seeking shelter at Port Arthur.
Roads leading out of the peninsula have been cut off by fires, as well as due to scorched trees and utility poles littering the roadways. Tasmania Fire Service (TFS) official, Phil Douglas, warned residents that there continues to be a threat of falling trees and power lines, urging them to use caution. Sea evacuations are taking place due to the road closures. Those evacuated have been taken to the Hobart City Hall, site of a temporary shelter. Supply flotillas have been sent to the area with food, water and various other supplies for evacuees and fire officials.
Acting police commissioner, Scott Tilyard, told Al-Jazeera that a firefighting crew was trapped by one of the bushfires in Dunalley on Friday. He went on to say that there are reports of at least one fatality.
"They had to take shelter in their vehicle as the fire burned over their vehicle and they were, from that location as I understand it, able to see a gentlemen who was trying to protect his property and they couldn't get to him, it was too unsafe."
Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, told The Guardian:
"For those who have lost their homes, a devastating experience, … we will be working with them, as will the state government to support people through. There are media reports that a life has been lost – I'm not in a position to confirm that, but bushfires are very dangerous things."
A lack of significant rainfall and record high temperatures are being blamed for the brushfires. Temperatures in Hobart soared to nearly 42C (107F) on Friday. Temperatures have hovered around 40C (104F) most of the week. On Saturday, temperatures eased somewhat, but the danger still persists. TFS chief officer, Mike Brown, said:
"While the weather has eased off and given us some opportunity to do something about it... it's going to take a long time and a lot of work to properly contain these fires. So people have got to still be aware there's a risk and still keep themselves abreast of the latest information through media outlets or from our website."
Updates on the current location of fires, as well as road closures and evacuation orders can be found by visiting the Tasmania Fire Service website. Updates are also being given on their Facebook page.