Thousands flee Australian bushfires
Saturday 5 Jan 2013 5:09 p.m.
Firefighters across Australia have been stretched to the limit as bushfires burned in five states.
Conditions were perfect for fires to burn out of control as a heatwave has Australia in its grip.
The worst damage has been in Tasmania, where yesterday temperatures reached record levels.
The burned-out skeletons of abandoned cars and homes tell the story of what happened to one small community in Tasmania. Up to 80 houses in Dunalley were destroyed by bushfires. That's a third of the town. The school, police station and bakery were also wiped out.
Police aren't sure of the cause of the fires but they are treating it as a crime scene.
“We will always look at these serious matters to make sure a crime hasn't been committed like arson,” says a police investigator. “There's no report or confirmation that it has, but we will keep an open mind.”
They now have the arduous task of going through every property in the fire area.
“It'll be a number of days, not hours, before we know if anyone has lost their life.”
Murray and Naomi Fehleberg don't know whether their house has survived. They do know that fire came within metres of it.
“We're more upset for the people we know that know they've lost their homes,” says Ms Fehleberg. “We don't know for sure yet.”
They had another reason wanting to get home too.
“I'm on medication and I just hope I can keep kicking without it,” says Mr Fehleberg.
Like a scene from a film set, the houses were backlit by fiery skies. But this drama was real.
Choppers carrying thousands of litres of water looked inconsequential against the smoke-filled countryside.
And yet no effort was too small. One firefighter resorted to using his jacket, trying to smother the sparks.
But it wasn't enough for Connelly's Marsh, where 40 percent of the buildings were ruined.
With wind fanning the flames, the fires spread fast and furiously. In less than five minutes, the trees were engulfed.
Much of the area has been cordoned off, with fallen power lines and trees blocking the roads.
“Quite a few people have actually evacuated,” says one Dunalley resident. “They evacuated yesterday afternoon but most that have stayed and fought have managed to save their properties.”
Up to 2000 people have taken refuge at Nubeena and another 700 at the Port Arthur Historic Site. People were also ferried out of the Tasman Peninsula to emergency accommodation in Hobart.