Horror day: bushfires, gales and stormsThursday January 22, 2009 - 18:35 EDT
Emergency crews around Australia are straining to cope with bushfires and accidents intensified by gale force winds and lightning strikes.
In Victoria, crews have been called to 560 fires since Monday morning, and the Country Fire Authority (CFA) says the fire danger will intensify over the next few days because of dry and windy conditions.
Fire crews are trying to control a blaze that is burning towards the township of Malmsbury, north-west of Melbourne, but a strong wind is throwing spot fires ahead of the fire, near farmland.
More bushfires have broken out across Gippsland as storms passed over the region and water bombing aircraft continue to work on two fires started by lightning strikes north of Cann River.
A scrub fire came within 50 metres of homes at Carrum Downs in Melbourne's south this morning and authorities say while there is no immediate threat to the town, residents in bushfire-prone areas should enact their fire plans.
CFA chief fire officer Russell Rees says fires in urban areas are particularly dangerous.
"Fire literally over people's back fence, fires that appear benign, fires that because of the long run of dry conditions can rapidly develop to proportions where they'll do damage," he said.
"Do not be complacent, the honeymoon is over, the fire season is here amongst us and we need to work together."
Mr Rees says fires can take hold within a matter of minutes.
"Fire can quickly be upon your house so people need to be aware, " he said.
"The expectation that they will get a warning from the fire service or indeed a fire truck at their front gate is something that we can't guarantee."
Challenging weather conditions also hampered firefighting efforts in the Bundawang National Park on the New South Wales south coast.
The fire, north-west of Batemans Bay, was started by a lightning strike on Tuesday and has now spread across 700 hectares of inaccessible bushland, fuelled by high temperatures and strong winds.
Firefighters contained a bushfire at Whiteman in Perth's northern suburbs this afternoon and residents evacuated from the Cullacabardee community have now been allowed back into their homes.
There are severe weather warnings for parts of New South Wales and Victoria, with a cloud mass sweeping bringing possible damaging winds, hail and flash floods.
Traffic in Victoria and Tasmania was disrupted by storms this afternoon, with strong winds bringing down trees and powerlines across major roads.
VicRoads has received reports of more than 90 fallen trees on roads and major highways because of gale force winds.
Strong winds also caused trees to fall on train lines in Melbourne's north, suspending several services.
A total of 27 services were cancelled today, with 20 trains withdrawn during this morning's peak due to the hot weather.
Meanwhile the Bureau of Meteorology reported wind speeds of up to 125 kilometres per hour in central Hobart this afternoon.
A woman was injured when the winds caused a tree fell on a bus in central Hobart and Aurora Energy says 25,000 homes and businesses are still without power.
A bushfire closed Tasmania's Midland Highway, the state's main north-south route at Conara, and power lines came down across the highway.
Crews have reopened one lane of the highway and hope to have it fully open by 8:00pm AEDT.
The fire was fanned by extreme winds along the highway and 15 crews worked to bring it under control.
Heavy rain in the northern midlands helped firefighters control another fire, which burnt paddocks on either side of the highway between Powranna and Epping Forest.
Residents at Epping Forest came close to evacuating their homes when the fire raced through.
© ABC 2008
More breaking news
Some people affected by Cyclone Debbie say they are frustrated they have not been able to return to their damaged properties in north Queensland.
South-east Queensland is set for a drenching today with rainfall in excess of 200 millimetres possible in some localised areas, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has warned.
As emergency services build a picture of the destruction wrought by Cyclone Debbie, 61,000 remain without power and Mackay may have only 24 hours of clean water remaining.