Australia on alert as new fires threaten Victoria

The fire-ravaged southern Australian state of Victoria was put on a high fire alert on Friday, forcing the closure of around 200 schools as temperatures soared and strong winds threatened to fan blazes.

Australia on alert as new fires threaten Victoria
Dozens of fires continue to burn in Victoria, where firestorms on Feb. 7 killed 210 people and destroyed several small towns, prompting authorities to warn people to be prepared for a new emergency.

"We have an extremely dry fuel load, and therefore extreme fire danger," Victoria's state emergency services commissioner Bruce Esplin told reporters.

Some residents evacuated their homes early on Friday as heavy smoke billowed over the town of Healesville, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Melbourne.

"It was a smokey start to the morning -- we had to shut up the house keep the smell of smoke out. But the smoke has now lifted and we can see the surrounding hills," said Healesville resident Mark Laurence, 46, who evacuated his family of four from the town earlier this month under the threat of wildfires.

He said a number of residents had again left the town over the past 12 hours.

Esplin said people in areas near the fires needed to decide early whether to evacuate their homes, or stay and defend their properties, adding it was too late to leave once the flames were in sight.

Many of those killed in Victoria on Feb. 7 died in their cars as they attempted to outrun the fires.

Authorities are concerned an expected change in wind direction late on Friday could send existing fires off in new directions and create a new emergency, with the combined distance of all fire fronts totalling about 1,100 km (680 miles).

Esplin said since the Feb. 7 fires, which were Australia's worst natural disaster in a century, authorities have battled about 3,500 fires.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 27 Şubat 2009, 14:02