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Page last updated at 12:34 GMT, Sunday, 8 February 2009

Devastated residents tell of fire fury

Aerial footage of Marysville - the entire town has been destroyed

Bush fires have swept through towns in south-eastern Australia, killing dozens of people and leaving a smouldering trail of devastation.

The fast-moving inferno caught many by surprise. In some cases bodies were found in cars, suggesting they had been overcome while fleeing the flames.

Dr Peter Cameron from the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, where many of the severely burned victims were taken, told the BBC: "One guy was trying to move his cows caught in a fence so he had to go and cut them out. Suddenly the wind swept round and got him.

We made it. I never thought I could jump fences so quickly
Rosaleen Dove
65-year-old survivor

"Another farmer was on his tractor. He had a clear view of where he was going and he was just going back to the house and all of a sudden the wind changed and the fire was heading straight towards him and he thought he was going to die.

"Fortunately he got through it, but the stories of how quickly the winds change and the unpredictability of the fires is quite frightening."

Wake-up call

Melbourne resident Neil Schmoll had set off to attend a wedding when the fire struck. With his hotel evacuated, he tried to get to the vineyard venue, but was turned back by a series of roadblocks.

Residents survey the burning countryside around Labertouche, Victoria
The fire swept through farmland and towns of Victoria

Thick smoke reduced visibility and flames were within a kilometre of his car.

"We saw a lot of flames, there was a real glow in the sky."

Reaching the relative safety of a pub, he said the mood was sombre, with many not knowing if their homes had survived and one woman unable to reach her daughter.

Meanwhile, his fellow wedding guests were locked in the venue with firefighters dropping water bombs around the area to prevent the fire reaching buildings.

"It was a real wake-up call. The fire just came out of nowhere," he said.

'Dead animals'

In Kinglake, where a dozen people died and 550 homes were burnt to the ground, resident Chris Harvey described a "horrible day".

We hid in our olive grove for an hour and watched our house burn
Kinglake resident

"It's going to look like Hiroshima I tell you, it's going to look like a nuclear bomb," he told AFP.

"There's animals dead all over the road."

Fellow resident Darren Webb-Johnson told Sky TV: "It went through like a bullet."

One couple stood among debris. "This is our house here - totally gone," Wayne Bannister told Sky News, standing alongside his wife Anita.

Another unidentified man said he had tried to fight the flames, but gave up when gas tanks began exploding.

"It rained fire," he said. "We hid in our olive grove for an hour and watched our house burn."

'I've lost my wife'

Marie Jones said she was staying at a friend's house in Kinglake when a man arrived with his infant daughter, saying his wife and other child had been killed.

People watch flames in Bunyip State Forest, Victoria

We made it. I never thought I could jump fences so quickly
Rosaleen Dove, 65
Wandong resident

"He was so badly burnt," she told the Melbourne Age's website.

"He had skin hanging off him everywhere and his little girl was burnt, but not as badly as her dad, and he just came down and he said 'Look, I've lost my wife, I've lost my other kid, I just need you to save (my daughter).'"

No deaths have been reported in Marysville, a township of about 600 people, but its smoking remains have been sealed off as police fear bodies may still be found.

"Marysville is no more," Senior Constable Brian Cross told the Associated Press news agency at a checkpoint.

Television footage from Marysville showed houses ruined, metal twisted from the heat, and the skeletons of cars smoking in the deserted streets.

Pastor Ivor Jones, who lost his own house, said: "Marysville, which was one the loveliest townships in Victoria, if not Australia, has just about been wiped out."

Strathewen resident Mary Avola escaped, but her husband, Peter, died after they fled their home in separate cars trying to reach a nearby sporting ground.

"He was behind me in another car. He was behind me for a while and we tried to reach the oval but the gates were locked," Mrs Avola told Melbourne's Herald Sun website.

"He just told me to go and that's the last time I saw him." His body has been recovered.

In Wandong, survivor Rosaleen Dove said she spent seven hours battling to save her home with her husband.

"We made it. I never thought I could jump fences so quickly," said the 65-year-old.


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SEE ALSO
Australian fires worst in history
08 Feb 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia counts heatwave deaths
31 Jan 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Heatwave cripples south Australia
30 Jan 09 |  Asia-Pacific

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