The sun glows through smoke haze at Lake Repulse, 80km north-west of Hobart. Tasmania suffered its most severe fire day in years on 4 January 2013, with a record 41.8 degrees in Hobart, the highest temperature since 1881. Kim Foale / Sydney Morning Herald

By Andrew Darby and Nick Ralston
5 January 2013

(Sydney Morning Herald) – AT LEAST 80 homes have been lost and one man is feared killed by a bushfire that swept down onto the Tasmanian town of Dunalley, less than 60 kilometres from Hobart, in catastrophic conditions.

The bushfire sent hundreds fleeing and was on Friday night still burning down the Tasman Peninsula, taking more properties as it went.

The Tasmania Fire Service acting district officer, Andrew McGuinness, said people should prepare for the worst. ''We've lost a lot of property down there.'' […]

Police crews were checking the smouldering town, which is believed to have lost about 65 properties, including many of its houses, as well as shops and the local primary school.

A few kilometres away at the beachside town of Boomer Bay, another 15 properties were gone, Mr Tilyard said.

Many people were forced to shelter on beaches and in shallow water near Boomer Bay, with some evacuated by small boat owners and the police.

Meanwhile, west of Hobart in the Derwent Valley, a separate fire was threatening more houses at Ellendale and Karanja.

Tasmania suffered its most severe fire day in years, with a record 41.8 degrees in Hobart, the highest temperature since 1881. Higher temperatures were observed ahead of the fire front in Dunalley.

Tasmania's chief fire officer, Mike Brown, said conditions reached the catastrophic level several times during the afternoon, and 100 crews were battling about 25 fires in the state.

The Dunalley fire began on Thursday in bushland about 20 kilometres to the north-west of the town, and swept out of containment lines on Friday afternoon fanned by strong winds.

It was burning to the sea at several points, and had taken properties at Connellys Marsh and Murdunna, local reports said.

The acting Premier, Bryan Green, said the government was preparing emergency accommodation, with a report that 600 people were sheltering at one refuge.

''This has been an extraordinary day,'' Mr Green said.

On the mainland it was also a day of heat, haze and a rapidly escalating fire situation as crews fought blazes across four states. NSW Rural Fire Service crews were working on Friday to bring a five-hectare blaze under control at Jamies Corner, just south of Forster. The fire, the most serious of 20 in NSW on Friday, forced the closure of roads in the area, isolating the tiny town of Green Point.

Homes were not under immediate threat with crews on the ground supported by six water bombing aircraft as they battled to contain the fire.

In South Australia, farming properties were under threat in the state's Fleurieu Peninsula. Temperatures in large parts of the state topped 40 degrees, with the country's hottest spot on Friday the SA township of Wudinna with a high of 47.7 degrees.

In Victoria, a fire in a pine plantation in the state's south-west was a ''major concern'', fire authorities said, posing a risk to nearby camp grounds.

Crews were unlikely to find help in weather on Saturday, with the heatwave expected to continue well into next week.

The heat engulfed the state - Sale in eastern Victoria recorded its second-hottest day on record with the mercury hitting 44.3.

The state's hottest towns were in the north-west, with Walpeup and Hopetoun Airport reaching 44.8. Melbourne hit 40.9, while Avalon, near Geelong, reached 43. […]

Authorities have warned the hot weather is not over, especially in the state's north.

A senior forecaster from the weather bureau, Richard Carlyon, said the hot weather would continue, with a large pool of hot air across much of Australia unlikely to move for some time. ''We are really at the beginning of a run of very high temperatures,'' he said.

''We can't see an end in sight for the next week.'' [more]

Man feared dead, at least 80 properties lost in Tasmanian bushfires

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