One person has died, two were missing, 35 were injured and more than 100 homes have been destroyed by wildfires razing Australia’s drought-stricken east coast, officials said on Saturday.
Firefighters were battling 90 fires across Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, with the most intense in the northeast where flames have been fanned by strong winds, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
“We still haven’t got intelligence from a number of the fire grounds that we know have been impacted dramatically,” Fitzsimmons told Nine Network television.
Firefighters found a body in a burned car near Glen Innes, Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said. Two residents remained missing.
Of the 35 people injured, 16 were firefighters, Fitzsimmons said.
“It’s been an awful day as we know and, sadly, we’re going to see some significant losses,” he said.
Hundreds of people fled their homes along a 500-kilometre swathe of the eastern seaboard from the Queensland state border south to Forster.
Forster is a town 300 kilometres north of Sydney, Australia’s largest city. Many spent the night in evacuation centres while some slept in cars.
“I think the problem with that area of mid-north coast is it was several fires, and they were all impacting on communities at the same time,” Rogers said. “So firefighters were torn between trying to send help to one fire or another.”
Progression of major fires today across NSW <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/NSWfires?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#NSWfires</a> <a href=”https://t.co/KAZ3pW9i8O”>pic.twitter.com/KAZ3pW9i8O</a>
More than 300 people vacated their homes overnight to a social club in the town of Taree, including Club Taree’s chief executive Morgan Stewart.
“It was pretty scary,” Stewart said. “We’re hearing lots of stories of lost houses, lost property, goods and effects, animals, land. It’s going to be horrific, I think.”
Peter Lean spent the night on the roof of his house in the town of Wallabi Point extinguishing burning embers carried on strong winds.
This shows the dangerous conditions that have confronted firefighters and residents today. This is the crew from Warringah HQ at the Hillville fire near Taree. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/nswrfs?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#nswrfs</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/nswfires?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#nswfires</a> <a href=”https://t.co/lIhnF8P1Qf”>pic.twitter.com/lIhnF8P1Qf</a>
“I’ve never seen the sky so red since 2000,” Lean said. “We’ve got winds blowing, they’re circling, it’s like a cyclone.”
Less destructive fires were blazing in other Australian states.
The annual Australian fire season which peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer has started early after an unusually warm and dry winter.