Australia races to control major blaze before weather worsens

Australia races to control major blaze before weather worsens
In a picture taken on January 3, 2015, a bushfire burns through scrub near Gumeracha in the Adelaide Hills.

KERSBROOK, Australia - Firefighters raced Monday to contain a major blaze before the forecast return of strong winds and a heatwave, following the loss of 26 homes in the worst bushfire conditions in South Australia for three decades.

The state fire service said properties were still at risk after nearly 13,000 hectares (32,124 acres) of scrub and farmland were razed in the Mount Lofty Ranges, east of Adelaide, over the weekend.

South Australia state Premier Jay Weatherill said that with cooler weather and calmer winds it was now a race against time before dangerous conditions expected Wednesday in the Adelaide Hills.

"There is still clear danger," he told reporters as water bombing aircraft dropped hundred of thousands of litres of fire retardant on the blaze that has a 238-kilometre (148-mile) perimeter.

"This is by no means over," Weatherill added.

"We're really racing against time to try to make sure that we get as much of this contained before the hotter weather and the stronger winds expected later in the week." He confirmed the loss of 26 homes and 41 outbuildings. The latest figures were reported after checks on just 20 of 59 affected areas.

At least 29 people, mostly firefighters, have suffered minor injuries from the fire, police said.

In Kersbrook, one of the worst-hit villages in the Adelaide Hills, resident Dave Miller surveyed the scene of destruction where his home once stood.

The 60-year-old told the Australian Associated Press he had very little left. "No house, not very much of anything, mate." "I've got a diesel tank still standing with 4,000 litres of diesel in but I've got nothing else," he said.

But like most residents Miller vowed to rebuild and has no intention of leaving, despite the annual bushfire menace.

"I'll stay up here. I'll get a caravan or something to live in and just keep going."

Temperatures soar

Temperatures were forecast to soar again above 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday after highs of well over 40C at the weekend in the Adelaide Hills, which has a population of 40,000 and is dotted with scenic villages known for farming produce and wineries.

Country Fire Service chief Greg Nettleton said the winds would be crucial to the next stage of the operation.

"At the moment I think they're predicting (winds of) about 35 kilometres per hour (21 miles per hour).

"That's enough given the dryness of the country for the fire to spread, so our number one priority is to secure the outer perimeter of that large fire so it doesn't impact on further communities," Nettleton said Further ahead, the prospect of heavy rain from Friday may help firefighters.

Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Neil Bennett said Adelaide could receive up to 50 millimetres (nearly two inches) of rain if a tropical low spreads from Western Australia as currently predicted.

South Australian officials said the weekend fire conditions were the worst since a 1983 disaster killed more than 70 people in South Australia and Victoria and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.

The fire service downgraded an emergency warning on Sunday, but noted the blaze continued to burn freely in all directions.

In neighbouring Victoria state, cooler temperatures Sunday saw bushfire warnings downgraded. Officials said thousands of livestock were believed to have been lost.

Three blazes were still burning in Victoria on Monday but no communities were under threat.

Bushfires are common in Australia's hot summer months. "Black Saturday", the worst firestorm in recent years, devastated southern Victoria in 2009, razing thousands of homes and killing 173 people.

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