SYDNEY (Reuters) – Fires forced residents to flee to basketball stadiums and community centres in the state of Victoria on Sunday as dry, hot and windy weather moved across Australia’s southeast.
The grass fires began on Saturday evening and burned out of control in Victoria’s southwest with emergency warnings issued across more than 45 towns by 11:30 a.m. (0030 GMT) on Sunday, according to the Victoria government emergency website.
The weather was expected to continue to bring dangerous fire conditions until Sunday mid-afternoon, a spokeswoman for the State Control Centre told Reuters.
“Four properties have been affected so far but that number may change,” the spokeswoman said.
Some roads have been closed with residents told to take shelter where they were as it was too dangerous to risk being caught by the flames in the open, or to navigate the roads in the thick smoke.
Six relief centres have been opened so far including the Ark Basketball Stadium and the Performing Arts Centre in Hamilton.
The Bureau of Meteorology warned of severe fire danger on Sunday for the southwest and central areas of Australia’s second-most populous state, with warm temperatures of 25 C (77 F) together with dry and gusty winds creating weather that fans flames.
The warning was also issued for the Australian Capital Territory, home of Australia’s Parliament House and the eastern state of New South Wales where temperatures of up to 41 C (105.8 F) have been forecast.
Bushfires are a common and deadly threat in Australia’s hot, dry summers, fuelled by highly flammable eucalyptus bushland.
In January, hundreds of holidaymakers had to be rescued in a boat evacuation from the beaches of the Royal National Park south of Sydney, when they became trapped by bushfires.
The 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria killed 173 people and injured more than 400 others.
(Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Alistair Bell)