Australia bush fires destroy homes, kill cattle

SYDNEY:  High temperatures and strong winds have fuelled large grass and bush fires in Australia, officials said yesterday, reducing dozens of houses to ash and killing cattle.

Sixty-nine homes were destroyed in the seaside village of Tathra on the south coast of New South Wales when a fire tore through the area on Sunday.

Some 40,000ha were also scorched in south-western regions of neighbouring Victoria as dozens of blazes swept through over the weekend, wiping out beef and dairy cattle.

Despite the damage, authorities said there were no reports of serious injuries or deaths.

"It was an absolutely awful set of circumstances for the community of Tathra, dominated by this very hot, dry air and these very strong winds," NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told Sky News Australia yesterday.

Tathra resident David Porter, who fled his home with his family to the neighbouring town of Bega, described seeing thick smoke and flying embers.

He said: "As the fire came close, you could hear the sound and see the enormity of it coming over the hill.

"It was an overwhelming sight to see something so big and strong that was unstoppable moving towards you. You realise as a human how insignificant you are when you see such a sight."

Experts said the infernos showed that the bush fire season - which usually occurs in the summer months of December to February - was lengthening as climate change disrupts weather patterns.

In Tathra, more than 60 firefighters were continuing to battle the flames yesterday.

In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews said the "unprecedented" force of the fires had claimed at least 18 homes.- AFP