Deadly inferno kills 14 in Australia

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Gale-force winds and scorching temperatures turned raging wildfires sweeping southeastern Australia into a deadly inferno, killing 14 people.

Dozens of homes have been destroyed by the blazes, and Victoria state deputy police commissioner Kieran Walshe said officials feared the death toll could be "in the 40s".

Tens of thousands of firefighters were struggling to contain blazes late into the night in temperatures peaking around 47ºC.

Walshe said all the deaths happened in a huge blaze in northwestern Victoria — including six people in one car.

A cool change began sweeping through Victoria late Saturday, but along with falling temperatures came choppier winds that inflamed fires already burning and made them more unpredictable.

Fires also raged in the states of New South Wales and South Australia, but the blazes there were largely contained or burning away from residential areas.

Wildfires are common during the Australian summer, as rising temperatures bake forest land tinder dry and blustering winds fan embers. Some 60,000 fires occur each year, and about half are deliberately lit or suspicious, government research says. Lightning strikes and human activity such as use of machinery near dry brush cause the others.

Australia's worst bushfires occurred on "Ash Wednesday" in 1983 when 75 people were killed in Victoria.

Backyard barbecues and using power tools has been banned in high-risk areas.

Times Online
 
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