Tasmania fires rage on as police search burned homes

Sun Jan 6, 2013 4:32am EST
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By Morag MacKinnon

PERTH, Australia (Reuters) - Australian police and defense forces searched burned-out vehicles and homes in the towns worst hit by wildfires on the island of Tasmania, where more than 40 fires still raged on Sunday.

The blazes began on Thursday on the state's thinly populated southeastern coast, amid a fierce heatwave and strong winds.

The heat eased over the weekend, slowing the fires, but late on Sunday firefighters issued an emergency warning for residents in Taranna, 47 km (29 miles) east of the state capital Hobart, where a fire burning for more than three days threatened residents.

The national weather bureau warned that this weekend's relative mildness would be a brief reprieve, with extremely hot conditions set to return too much of the country early next week.

The fires that continue to burn in Tasmania have cut off communities and hampered efforts to search devastated areas.

In the small town of Dunalley, 56 km east of Hobart, more than 65 homes and a school have been destroyed. Nearby Boomer Bay and Marion Bay have also suffered damage.

Acting Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) there were about 100 people with whom authorities are still trying to make contact. It may take days to determine whether the fires have killed anyone during what is the peak holiday season on the island.

"We're hoping very much along with everyone else that there won't be (any deaths), but we need to go through the process to confirm that there haven't been," Tilyard told the ABC.   Continued...

The debris of houses destroyed by a bushfire is seen in Dunalley, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of Hobart, January 5, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Kidd/Pool