Wildfires wreck 41 Australian homes
Wildfires in western Australia have destroyed at least 41 homes, officials said Monday, stressing that the number could rise with the flames roaring out of control.
Heat and high winds triggered by last week's ferocious Cyclone Yasi fed two major blazes in the west coast city of Perth at the weekend, with strong gusts grounding water bombing aircraft and creating fast and erratic flames.
"Unfortunately it appears that we have lost 41 houses at this stage totally, and 19 partially damaged," said fire chief Craig Hynes.
"That number could increase," he added as damage assessment teams fanned out.
Hynes said there had been no serious injuries or fatalities at this stage but cautioned that authorities were yet to bring the fires under control.
Both were burning in heavily vegetated areas on the city outskirts in rugged terrain that was difficult to access except by air.
"We're still calling both fires uncontrolled and we won't be able to let people back into the areas due to safety reasons," he said.
"We are very concerned about the safety of the fire grounds and we are doing our best to make sure that there are no injuries. Life is our priority."
One firefighter was in hospital with injuries sustained while he was trying to defend properties but his condition was not serious.
Hynes said emergency officials had readied themselves for "remarkable" winds as Yasi, a top-category storm that ripped into Australia's northeast coast Thursday, moved toward the west coast as a low pressure system.
Stretched crews would get some reprieve as the winds, surging at top speeds of 75 kilometres (47 miles) an hour, eased Monday afternoon, though Hynes said easterly gusts would "remain a concern".
The weather bureau said Yasi was expected to cross into Western Australia state later Monday, drenching the red desert centre with intense rains.
Hundreds of homes were flattened and at least Ausê500 million of crops wiped out when Yasi made andfall near the tourist city of Cairns last Thursday, the second tropical cyclone to batter northeastern Australia in a week.
The storms followed severe flooding which swamped tens of thousands of homes and killed more than 30 people in the region.
The extreme weather has been linked to an extremely strong La Nina climate pattern, usually characterised by increased flooding and cyclones for the vast southern continent.
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