Sydney, March 19, 2018 (AFP) -High temperatures and strong winds have fuelled large grass and bushfires in Australia, officials said Monday, reducing dozens of houses to ash and killing cattle.
Up to 70 homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed in the picturesque seaside village of Tathra on the south coast of New South Wales when a fire tore through the area on Sunday.
Some 40,000 hectares (100,000 acres) were also scorched in southwestern 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 yesterday afternoon 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 Monday.
“We saw literally hundreds of ember showers landing in and around the community of Tathra, burning in-between the streets.”
The fires flared up as southeastern Australia was hit by a bout of unseasonably warm weather, with gusting winds fanning the large blazes.
Experts said the infernos showed the bushfire season — which usually occurs in the summer months of December-February — was lengthening as climate change disrupts weather patterns.
In Tathra, over 1,000 hectares were burnt and more than 60 firefighters were continuing to battle the flames Monday, supported by three water-bombing aircraft, NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan told AFP.
In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews said the “unprecedented” force of the fires had claimed at least 18 homes.
“The size of this fire, its absolute intensity, how fast running it was and of course at night, we are all very fortunate that we are not talking about serious injury or loss of life,” he told reporters.
Firefighters were hopeful they could contain three remaining blazes in the region as the weather became milder, Andrews added. Cooler conditions and rain were also forecast for Tathra, Fitzsimmons said.
“This event shows destructive fires can occur ‘outside’ the summer bushfire season,” said David Bowman, an expert in environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania.
“Fire seasons are lengthening globally in response to climate change, similar seasonally ‘anomalous’ destructive fires are being reported elsewhere in the world, such as California.”