February 07, 2009 Drouin
Footage of the flare up as the wind turned NW to S and opened up the front some footage with 100m flames
Death toll may reach more than 40: police
February 7, 2009 - 10:53PM http://www.theage.com.au/
The Country Fire Authority monitors a giant fire raging in the Bunyip State Forest. Photo: AFP
Fourteen people have been killed in the savage bushfires which set Victoria ablaze today.
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Victoria police confirmed the deaths tonight and said they fear the figure may be more than 40.
At least 100 homes have been destroyed as nine major blazes burnt out of control across Victoria in the worst fire conditions in the state's history.
Deputy police commissioner Kieran Walshe said all the deaths were in a massive blaze northwest of Melbourne - six at Kinglake, four at nearby Wandong, three at Strathewen and one in Clonbinane.
Mr Walshe said he believed the Kinglake victims were all in the same car.
He believed arsonists were responsible for some of the nine major fires ripping across the state.
"We suspect a number of the fires have been deliberately lit,'' Mr Walshe told reporters.
"This is an absolute tragedy for the state and we believe the figure may even get worse,'' Mr Walshe said.
"We base that on the fact we're only just getting into these areas now ... to search buildings and properties these have been very very significant fires ... the figure could get into the 40s.''
The fire started in East Kilmore, 80km north of Melbourne, and covered a huge area as it pushed 30km east to Kinglake, through the small townships of Wandong, Strathewen and Clonbinane.
Mr Walshe said he could not determine whether the victims were civilians or firefighters. He said identifications could not be carried out until at least Sunday.
One man, aged in his 40s, is in critical condition after suffering burns to 50 per cent of his body when he tried to move stock in the Coleraine area in the state's west.
More than 3,000 firefighters and many more residents battled major fronts at Horsham, Coleraine, Weerite, Kilmore East, Bunyip, Churchill, Dargo, Murrindindi and Redesdale in all corners of the scorched state as the searing heat in the mid 40s and high winds exceeded authorities' predictions of the worst fire conditions in the state's history.
The Kilmore region in the north and several areas of Gippsland in the east were on high alert as an uneasy dusk fell on Saturday night, while the Horsham fire was downgraded early in the evening.
Fifty houses were reportedly lost in the Bendigo area in the Redesdale blaze and up to 30 houses went up in the Kilmore fire which pushed across Whittlesea and into the town of Kinglake, northwest of Melbourne, which one resident said had gone up in flames.
"The whole township is pretty much on fire,'' Peter Mitchell told ABC Radio.
"There was was no time to do anything ... it came through in minutes.
"There'll be a massive loss of houses ... There'll be a lot of us homeless.
"All those who have made it into town will be fine. The others will be sheltering and working on their fire plans, God help them.''
Mr Mitchell said he was with around 200 residents holed up in the local pub and that no fire trucks could get into the town.
Thousands more residents in the region were sheltering wherever they could find cover as they were warned the worst was to come overnight.
A cool change early this evening did not bring any respite but, in fact, was expected to create more volatile conditions.
"It hasn't helped the firefighters, only presented them with new fronts,'' the Country Fire Authority (CFA) spokeswoman said.
The CFA and DSE (Department of Sustainability and Environment) warned Victorians to prepare to be hit by fire late tonight and to be especially prepared for ember attack.
"You should assume that as the wind change comes through, that your property could be impacted,'' CFA State Coordinator Geoff Conway said.
La Trobe Valley power stations were under threat as a fire on the eastern fringes of the Strzelecki Ranges spread toward the Gippsland coast, threatening towns such as Yarram, Langsbrough and Manns Beach.
"It is pretty well every part of the state except the far northwest,'' CFA Deputy Chief Fire Officer John Haynes said.
The Horsham fire burnt 5700 hectares and claimed at least three homes, the town's golf club and several sheds.
The Bunyip State Park reached 2400 hectares, and one at Kilmore burned 2000 hectares.
CFA deputy chief fire officer John Haynes said it would be about midnight, after the cool change had swept across the state, before fire fighters knew whether they had got on top of the blazes.
"Our guys have been flat out trying to fight the fires and trying to pin them down a bit,'' Mr Haynes said.
"The fire weather ... was extreme and off the scale.''
By 6pm, at least one house was destroyed at Coleraine in Victoria's west, in Melbourne's southeast three homes were destroyed at Lyndbrook; and north of Melbourne six houses were destroyed at Wandong and one at Whittlesea.
Homes were also lost in Labertouche, near the Bunyip State Park east of Melbourne.
"There will be more to come,'' Mr Haynes said.
Julie Venrooy said from Shady Creek, east of Melbourne, said she had been forced to stay on the Princes Highway south of Tonimbuk by police, unable to return to her home.
"I've been able to contact my husband once. He's had ember attack, that was about an hour ago but I don't know what's happened since,'' Ms Venrooy said.
Victoria Premier John Brumby said one fire threatening his parents' home in Coleraine was stopped literally on their doorstep.
"I would like to thank DSE, CFA and SES (State Emergency Services) fire fighters and volunteers who have fought tirelessly throughout the day to protect Victorian people and property,'' Mr Brumby said.
The fires came as Melbourne reached its hottest ever temperature of 46.4 degrees, while nearby Avalon recorded the state's high of 47.9.