News Column

Tasmanian Forest Fires Drives Australians Into the Sea

Jan. 4, 2013

Hundreds of residents and tourists took to the sea Saturday to escape a forest fire that burned to the waterline in Australia's island state of Tasmania.

More than 1,000 people were packed into pleasure boats to be ferried the 50 kilometres north of Hobart, the state capital.

At least 80 properties were razed to the ground in Dunalley and nearby fishing villages.

There are unconfirmed reports that a man is dead after being trapped by a blaze that raced through tinder-dry forest.

Acting Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard said firefighters saw the man but were unable to reach the man before the flames swept over their truck.

A man who identified himself as David to local reporters said he was forced to spend the night on a boat to ensure his safety.

"The sky was just scarlet," he told national broadcaster ABC. "It burned right to the waterline. It was just unbelievable."

On Friday, Hobart registered a temperature of over 41 degrees, the highest since record keeping began in 1883.

The Tasmania Fire Service said in a statement that lower temperatures would make it easier to contain the inferno.

Most of Australia is in the grip of a record-setting heatwave, with firefighters tackling blazes across the nation and ambulance officers treating those felled in the sweltering heat.

"Take care and stay safe as we face extreme heat around our nation," Prime Minister Julia Gillard tweeted. "Listen to warnings on the high bushfire risk."

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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