Page last updated at 12:16 GMT, Sunday, 8 February 2009

Fires 'like a horror movie'

Ash darkens the sky over bush fires
Day turned to night as ash from the bush fires choked Australian skies

A British teacher living in Melbourne - 30 miles from Australia's worst ever bush fires - did not need local news reports to know something was wrong.

James King said the sky went a dirty crimson "like something from a horror movie", as the sun was blotted out by fires that have killed more than 100.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the world, his mother Jenny King was having her own taste of extreme weather.

The 60-year-old retired teacher was snowed in at her home in Devon.

It was like something from a horror movie
James King
Mr King, 34, who lived in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, before emigrating seven years ago, said: "I knew something was not right. The sky went crimson with ash and I could smell all the smoke in the atmosphere.

"It was like a thick, dense, dirty fog. There was smoke everywhere. It looked like Armageddon or something from a horror movie. I hope I never experience anything like that again."

The fires followed a week when temperatures hit 47C (117F).

James King
British expat James King says it has been too hot to walk down the road
Mr King, who has previously lived in Dubai, said: "The day started warm and then increased and increased until it was really terrible. With the winds as well it's like standing in a convection oven.

"It is worse than being cold, because then you can put another layer on.

"In heat like that there is nothing you can do - you feel like you are melting. My friends were all phoning up the 'pom' to ask how I like it. I've lived in Dubai but I never felt as hot as that. I went for a walk but it was too hot to get around. It really takes your breath away."

Freakish weather

Mr King continued: "It was strange to think of the huge contrast - while I was here with the heat and the fire my mother was stuck inside with the snow. Even though we are on opposite sides of the world I think it says something about climate change. Both of us were experiencing such extreme weather conditions."

The freakish weather took another turn later in the day as the temperature suddenly plummeted. Mr King recalled: "In the afternoon the temperature dropped so quickly - I have never experienced anything like it. It went from 46 degrees centigrade to 26 in minutes. I have no idea what caused it."

Mr King said on Saturday it was too hot for people to go outside and talk to neighbours about what was going on - but by Sunday there was only one topic of conversation.

He said: "People are feeling a great sadness and empathy - and frustration with not being able to do anything about it.

"Arson is suspected so there is also a lot of anger at the people who started the fire, and the feeling that the government is not doing enough. The government has given the people A$10,000 to start rebuilding. But with prices of land around here that is nothing."

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