Three missing after bushfire hits Australia

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Three people, at least, are missing after a bushfire that devastated a town in Western Australia and continues to threaten others.

Yarloop, south of Perth, was worst hit, with at least 130 properties destroyed. But State Premier Colin Barnett has said it will be rebuilt.

The blaze, covering some 70,000 hectares, is approaching Harvey.
The town is being evacuated and emergency warnings remain in place for Waroona and other areas.
Gusts of up to 60km/h (37mph) had fanned the blaze, known as the Waroona fire, to heights of 50m (150ft).
The strong winds have now eased, but the fire, which began on Wednesday, remains unpredictable.

“We’re seeing conditions that we’ve not seen before on this type of fire, particularly when it went through Yarloop,” Western Australia Fire Commissioner Wayne Gregson said.

Some 250 firefighters are reported to be deployed, and reinforcements are being sent from New South Wales.

Premier Barnett, visiting Yarloop residents at an evacuation centre, said the town would continue “but probably not a Yarloop of its previous size”.
It remains unclear how many of the town’s more than 500 residents will be able to return.

Four firefighters were injured battling the blaze in Yarloop and one fire truck was destroyed.

The loss of property in Yarloop is described as significant with the pub, bowling club and historic timber workshops destroyed.

“You’ve got seasoned firefighters who’ve been around for many years saying they’ve never seen anything like it,” local politician Murray Cowper said.
“A big fireball came through and there was no way they were going to stop it.

The Western Australia bushfire comes less than a month after southern Victoria was struck by similar blazes.

More than 100 homes were destroyed by an outbreak on Christmas Day.

Australia is particularly prone to bushfires as much of the country has both a hot, dry climate, and plenty of vegetation to burn. All it takes to start a fire is ignition, and there can be as many as a thousand lightening strikes in a storm.

The impact, however, can be reduced by preparation: authorities can clear vulnerable land in advance and build more fire-resistant settlements; individuals can prepare their own defences and escape plans.

Less fast-moving fires can be fought by “direct attack” – ground troops with hoses – but more dangerous situations have to be fought with strategic techniques like “back-burning” land ahead of an advancing fire, to starve it of fuel when it arrives.

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