View Full Version : Australian bushfires: Nearly 100 dead in deadliest ever blaze

02-08-2009, 05:25 PM
Australian bushfires: Nearly 100 dead in deadliest ever blaze

Australia's worst ever bushfires have left nearly 100 people dead and hundreds homeless as blazes continue to rage amid fears the death-toll could rise even further.

By Bonnie Malkin in Sydney
Last Updated: 2:49PM GMT 08 Feb 2009

As authorities warned the number of dead, including one of Australia's most loved newsreaders, could climb higher, Gordon Brown pledged British assistance to the devastated country.

More than 750 homes have been lost and several townships razed as nine fires devastated towns and farmland in the state of Victoria.

Officials are continuing the grim search for bodies in blackened and collapsed houses and charred cars as extreme temperatures and strong winds fan the flames.

The weekend of terror, already been dubbed "Black Saturday", has left the country in a numb state of shock.

A Number 10 spokesman said the Prime Minister had offered his sympathies.

"The Prime Minister spoke to Kevin Rudd this morning to extend our sympathies to the Australian people, especially those families who have been affected by this tragedy," he said.

"He praised Kevin Rudd's leadership at this very difficult time, and said that the UK stood ready to provide any assistance that the Australian Government wanted."

Police have confirmed the number of dead had far eclipsed the toll from Ash Wednesday in 1983 when 75 people died in two states.

The tragedy, in February 1983 was previously Australia's worst bushfire tragedy, as it swept across Victoria and South Australia.

Authorities suspect arsonists are responsible for lighting or relighting some of the fires.

There is little information about the locations of the victims, but 29 are known to have died at Kinglake and four each at St Andrews and Wandong, in the country's south-east

Among the dead were Brian Naylor, a veteran television newsreader, who lived in the fire-ravaged Kinglake West area, and his wife.

Several people were killed as they tried to escape the flames in their cars.

At least six bodies were found in one car at Kinglake and one woman's body was found in another vehicle, with crockery on the seat beside her.

Police have not yet given the gender or ages of the victims, but one Kinglake resident said three members of the same family, believed to include a 14-year-old girl, a nine-year-old boy and an uncle, had died in the same house.

Keiran Walshe, Victoria's deputy fire commissioner, warned that more children were likely to be among the casualties.

The extent of the damage has left the state, and the country, in deep shock.

John Brumby, the premier of Victoria, broke down while talking to the media about the number of people who had suffered severe burns.

He described the bushfires as "a monster that couldn't be controlled" and said the state had experienced "hell on earth".

Kevin Rudd, the prime minister, announced emergency funding for the state and has offered to send in the army to help firefighters.

"Hell in all its fury had visited ... many good people lie dead," he said.

News of the escalating death toll came as horrifying eyewitness accounts of the fires started to emerge.

Residents of the worst-hit regions told of how a thick blanket of black ash blotted out the sun, leaving a 'horrible orange glow'.

Others described trees "exploding" and roads "peppered with burnt out cars".

Many people abandoned their homes to shelter in their swimming pools and dams as the flames closed in around them.

One Kinglake resident said "it rained fire".

Another witness, in Marysville, described the town as "a warzone, like a bomb had been dropped".

Strathewen resident Mary Avola said her husband of 43 years, Peter Avola, was among those killed.

"He was behind me for a while and we tried to reach the oval but the gates were locked," she told Melbourne's Herald Sun.

"He just told me to go and that's the last time I saw him."

Firefighter Richard Hoyle described the scene as "a holocaust".

"The road is riddled with burnt-out cars involved in multiple collisions and debris," he said.

A cool change is now helping firefighters tackle the flames, but Mr Brumby warned the only thing that could put the fires out was rain.

Bruce Esplin, emergency services commissioner, said nature had given Victoria "a beating of unimaginable proportions" and warned worse could be to come as the baking summer continues.

Wildfires are a natural annual event in Australia, but the ongoing drought, warm winds and recent spate of extremely hot weather have combined to create the deadly conditions.

Bushfires have killed more than 250 people in Australia in the last 40 years.


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02-08-2009, 05:27 PM
Bushfires and global warming: is there a link?

Scientists have a hunch rising temperatures due to human activity are making fire and flood more likely

Kinglake, Australia: Trees that were destroyed by fire

Scientists are reluctant to link *individual weather events to global warming, because natural variability will always throw up extreme events. However, they say that climate change loads the dice, and can make severe episodes more likely.

Some studies have started to say how much global warming contributed to severe weather. Experts at the UK Met Office and Oxford University used computer models to say man-made climate change made the killer European heatwave in 2003 about twice as likely. In principle, the technique could be repeated with any extreme storm, drought or flood – which could pave the way for lawsuits from those affected.

Bob Brown, a senator who leads the Australian Greens, said the bushfires showed what climate change could mean for Australia.

"Global warming is predicted to make this sort of event happen 25%, 50% more," he told Sky News. "It's a sobering reminder of the need for this nation and the whole world to act and put at a priority our need to tackle climate change."

Models suggest global warming could bring temperature rises as high as 6C for Australia this century, if global emissions continue unabated, with rainfall decreasing in the southern states and increasing further north. As if to demonstrate that, Queensland, in the north, is currently experiencing widespread flooding after rainfall of historic proportions.

More than 60% of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone in the worst floods for more than 30 years. Some 3,000 homes have been affected, and the main highway between Cairns and Townsville has been cut off.

Roger Stone, a climate expert at the University of Southern Queensland, said: "It certainly fits the climate change models, but I have to add the proviso that it's very difficult, even with extreme conditions like this, to always attribute it to climate change."

The fires and floods come as politicians gear up to negotiate a new global deal to combat climate change, to replace the Kyoto protocol. Australia plans a comprehensive carbon trading scheme, but green campaigners last year accused Kevin Rudd's government of a "betrayal" when it pledged to reduce emissions by a modest 5-15% by 2020.

Professor Mark Adams, from the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, said the extreme weather conditions that led to the bushfires are likely to occur more often.

"The weather and climatic conditions recently don't augur well for the future. Bushfires are an important and going to be ever-present part of the landscape," he said.

Australia is in the grip of the worst drought in a century, which has stretched for more than seven years in some areas and has forced restrictions on water use in the country's big cities.

A government-commissioned report on climate change last year warned that exceptionally hot years, which used to occur once every 22 years, would occur every one or two years, virtually making drought a permanent part of the Australian environment.


02-08-2009, 05:46 PM
It's terrible down here...:( So many people losing their lives and homes...:(

02-09-2009, 07:47 AM
Fire death toll can hit 200:


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02-09-2009, 04:41 PM

It's extremely sad, regardless of whether pyromanic idiots started the blaze.

02-09-2009, 06:08 PM
i dont think this has anything to do with global warming, fires like this have been happening for ages, even before the mention of any global warming, and as the Australlian authorities themselves said, this is most likely the work of arsonists.

02-10-2009, 05:10 AM

02-10-2009, 06:24 AM
I can't understand how arsonists can just gratuitously set ablaze huge swathes of land knowing that they are endangering the lives of civilians. It's inexcusable.

02-10-2009, 07:18 AM
They're saying the death toll could be 300. :(

02-11-2009, 04:13 AM
A map of the affected area and details on the places:


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