Tasmanian firestorm destroys homes
Tracy Ong and Richard Kerbaj
December 12, 2006
FOURTEEN houses have been destroyed in raging bushfires along Tasmania's east coast and up to 23 properties are feared to have been lost.
No deaths or injuries have been reported, but the Tasmanian Fire Service last night confirmed at least 14 homes had been hit in the northeast coastal town of Scamander.
TFS senior station officer Danny Reid said authorities were attempting to determine exactly how many dwellings had been lost during the firestorm, which was fanned by 100km/h winds.
Robert Legge, Mayor of the Break O'Day Council that covers Scamander, said he had heard reports up to 23 homes had been burnt but reports were "sketchy" because the phone networks were down.
Tasmania's chief fire officer, John Gledhill, said fire crews would not be able to determine the exact number of homes burnt until today. "There was a firestorm ... it actually burnt through to the coast there," he said.
The Tasmanian blazes have been burning for the past week but turned into an inferno yesterday in the intense wind conditions, forcing firefighters to retreat from the frontline.
Mr Reid said the property losses were thought to be on the southern side of the Scamander River. The conditions had moderated, allowing crews to focus on building containment lines, he said. But the respite would only be temporary, with warm, dry and windy weather forecast to return on Thursday.
The Pelican Sands Motel on the northern bank of the Scamander River provided refuge last night to residents not allowed to return to their homes.
"It was quite horrifying," said owner Vic Cato, who watched the blaze jump across the river and into the hills behind the motel, lighting up the sky with a "red glow". "One of the people staying with us had a farm - their house is still standing but they lost the rest of their stuff," he said.
Residents from Scamander, including some whose houses were destroyed, had also fled 20km north to the town of St Helens, where many congregated at Portland Hall. Sky News reported last night that a restaurant was among the properties destroyed.
An unoccupied house in Dublin Town, in the state's northeast, was razed last night. Firefighters saved a second house, also in Lohreys Road, but a workshop, garden shed and an outside laundry were destroyed.
Erratic and blustery winds continued to worry firefighters on several fronts in Victoria's northeast after a cool change yesterday that also brought relief.
But strong winds and high temperatures forecast for tomorrow and Thursday are expected to fan fires in Victoria that have already scorched 250,000ha, and yesterday came to within 20km south of the Thomson catchment, which supplies 60 per cent of Melbourne's water.
Reports suggested that a hut used in the filming of The Man from Snowy River had been destroyed in the blaze.
Authorities warned Victorians not to be complacent following the cool change.
Department of Sustainability and Environment spokesman Kevin Monk said: "We're just over one hump. But it's only December 11, and our worst fire conditions are usually in January and February. So if this burns the same way as the 2003 alpine fires, which went for two months, we've got a big challenge ahead of us."
Southwesterly winds reached all affected areas yesterday before turning easterly. The DSE warned that this put communities that were not on high alert over the weekend in the line of fire.
In NSW, a lightning storm that swept across the state late yesterday ignited several fires, the most serious at Cranebrook in western Sydney.
Additional reporting: Padraic Murphy, AAP
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