Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Sunday, 8 February 2009

Relief and anguish from survivors

Bush fires in southern Australia have wiped out entire towns and have killed more than 95 people so far.

Thousands of firefighters, aided by the army, are battling several major fires and the number of dead is expected to rise.

Residents in Victoria, the state worst hit by the fires, have been telling the BBC their stories of escape and community spirit.

SUSAN SMART, DANDENONGS, VICTORIA
Smoke from the fires as seen from the sky. Photo: Grant Smith
Fires have been spreading rapidly in the high winds. Photo: Grant Smith

I live in one of the most beautiful areas in the world, but these fires have completely devastated it.

We have been lucky, some towns and communities have been completely wiped out. I was evacuated. I was packed and ready to go as soon as I was told. I took my dogs and stayed at a friend's house.

We were allowed to return this morning. We are still on alert here, but I do feel very lucky.

I've heard stories of friends who had no warning that the fire was approaching their house. As soon as they tried to leave they realised the door to their home had warped shut in the heat, it was impossible for them to open it.

I feel very lucky and also guilty that I have escaped

They had to break a window to escape. They're OK now, but their house is gone. They left with only the clothes they were wearing.

The winds have been so strong, it has been impossible in some cases to escape the flames. I really feel for our animals and the wildlife, these fires are moving too fast for them to out-run.

My husband has been working at a centre to help people take care of their pets and livestock. They had plans to help animals affected by the drought, now they are helping them move away from the fires.

This is worse than Ash Wednesday. No one really knew how bad these fires were going to be. I feel very lucky and also guilty that I have escaped so lightly when others haven't.

KERRIN O'ROURKE, SEYMOUR, VICTORIA
Smoke filled sky. Photo: Paul Graham
Smoke from the Kinglake fire has darkened skies. Photo: Paul Graham

I live about 40km north-west of the fires around Kinglake, Wandong, Kilmore, and Yea, but even here the smoke is still heavy and pungent. It's covering the sky, I can't see the horizon.

I have friends in Wandong and Kinglake and have no idea if they are still alive.

One of my friends managed to leave her home before the fire reached her. She breeds dogs, and thankfully managed to rescue them too, although sadly she couldn't find her cats.

She literally had to drop everything, leave and drive for her life.

The community is really pulling together and helping each other out. My neighbours have been popping round to see if I'm OK and my animals have enough water. I haven't asked for their help, but we're all helping each other.

Birds in Marysville Australia. Photo: Paul Graham
Parrots and cockatoos in Marysville, before the fires. Photo: Paul Graham

Everyone is really concerned about the wildlife. Volunteers are helping to rescue the koalas and take them to local shelters. Other animals have hopefully been able to escape the flames.

Our firefighters are also volunteers from the local community. They are dong an amazing job. They put their lives at risk to save peoples homes. I've heard of one who was out fighting a fire and returned home to find that his own house had burnt down.

The army is now putting up a barrier around Yea to try and stop the flames. The whole situation is devastating, and the whole state of Victoria is just in shock.

CHRIS BURGESS, MELBOURNE, VICTORIA
Smoke filled skies in Yarra Glen. Photo: Neil Schmoll
Smoke filled skies have hindered driving. Photo: Neil Schmoll

We have had a lot of bush fires in Victoria through my years. But I've never seen anything like this, it is shaping up to be the biggest.

The sheer speed of the fire has been one of the main causes of death.

There has been a lot of smoke which hasn't helped. Cars have collided with trees and other vehicles, leaving some streets littered with vehicles and lots of roads have been closed making it harder for people to leave.

I think everyone will be affected by this. I have friends of friends who have been killed in the fires. I'm worried about my other friends and acquaintances now. Everyone is trying to get hold of people to find out if they are OK.

We've heard on the news that one of our former newsreaders has been killed as well. I didn't know him, but I feel like I have lost a close friend.

It's very stressful watching the news and seeing the devastation

There is also a lot of concern for the animals, not just the koalas, but we've heard a pony club has been destroyed, as well as lots of livestock.

I grew up in Gippsland and have travelled around Victoria as a sales rep. So many of the places and towns that I am familiar with have vanished.

I remember when I was younger trying to help fight bush fires. My dad was a volunteer fireman, and us kids used to go out and try and help too. We used to get lots of sacks wet to help dampen the burning embers, but there was never anything like this.

It's very stressful watching the news and seeing the devastation. Thankfully we have had some rain today, but it's not even enough to fill a bucket.



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