COOMA, Australia: Firefighters battled scores of wildfires Tuesday in southeastern Australia as authorities evacuated national parks and warned that hot, dry and windy conditions were combining to raise the threat to its highest alert level.
Temperatures soared to 45 degrees Celsius in some areas.
No deaths have been reported, although officials in Tasmania were still trying to find about 100 people who have been missing since last week when a fire tore through the small town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart, destroying around 90 homes. Tuesday, police found no bodies during preliminary checks of the ruined houses.
“You don’t get conditions worse than this,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. “We are at the catastrophic level and clearly in those areas leaving early is your safest option.”
Catastrophic threat level is the most severe rating.
Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. The combination of soaring temperatures and dry, windy conditions since Friday have sparked fires that burned 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of forests and farmland across southern Tasmania.
In New South Wales the fires scorched more than 30,000 hectares. All state forests and national parks were closed as a precaution and total fire bans were in place.
In Victoria state, where fires in February 2009 killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes, officials said two people received treatment for minor burns and four were treated for smoke inhalation.
Up to 20 properties in the town of Chepstowe west of Melbourne reportedly were hit by a fire, although it was too early to know the extent of the damage, a Victoria Country Fire Authority spokeswoman said.
More than 130 fires were blazing across New South Wales, though only a few dozen houses were threatened as night fell. One home was destroyed in the village of Jugiong, northwest of the capital of Canberra, fire officials said.
A fire was burning close to about 30 homes near the small town of Cooma, south of Canberra. Cooma-Monaro shire Mayor Dean Lynch told Australia’s Sky News some residents had evacuated to the town of Nimmitabel.
Wind gusts of more than 100 kilometers an hour were recorded in some parts of the state, although a cool front moving across the region late Tuesday brought some relief and raised hopes that New South Wales might avoid major damage.
“If we get through today without loss of life and loss of property, we’ll have had a remarkable escape from what could have been,” premier Barry O’Farrell told the Seven Network.
One volunteer firefighter suffered severe burns to his hands and face while fighting a grass fire near Gundaroo village, about 220 kilometers southwest of Sydney, Monday. He was flown to a hospital in Sydney for treatment.
Fitzsimmons said the firefighter’s condition had improved Tuesday and he should be released from the hospital in the next few days.