There have been over 32,000 wildfires already this year:
Wonder where they were?
Sure weren't in the news!
CALIFORNIA FIRE ONLY 40% CONTAINED AS EVACUEES RETURN HOME
By Dan Hart and Brian K. Sullivan
May 10 , 2009 (Bloomberg) -- California state and county officials said the wildfire threatening parts of Santa Barbara near the Pacific coast was 40 percent contained, and evacuees began returning home yesterday.
Calmer winds, helped by temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit, aided firefighters battling the 8,733-acre (3,493-hectare) Jesusita blaze, which showed “minimum growth,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on its Web site. Eighty homes were destroyed or damaged, and more than 30,500 people were evacuated, the department said earlier.
About 16,000 people returned to their homes by noon local time yesterday, said Harry Hagen, a spokesman for the County of Santa Barbara.
Firefighers “are chasing the fire rather than reacting to it,” Hagen said in a telephone interview.
The blaze has cost more than $6.8 million to combat since it began on the afternoon of May 5, CalFire said on its Web site.
The National Weather Service office in Oxnard, California, forecast a high temperature today of 69 degrees Fahrenheit (21 Celsius) for Santa Barbara, and winds from the northeast at 5 miles an hour (8 kilometers an hour). The temperature tomorrow is expected to rise to 81 degrees, with winds from the south and southwest at as much as 9 miles an hour, the agency said.
The temperature at 7 a.m. today was 57 degrees, the weather service said on its Web site.
During the past week, winds gusted to more than 79 miles an hour, worsening conditions caused by a drought in its third year.
The Santa Barbara blaze was fanned by so-called sundowner winds, which show up late in the afternoon. These high winds are caused when air bottles up in the valleys and then is letloose by a pressure differential between the mountains and the ocean, said Mike Pigott, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.com in State College, Pennsylvania, said yesterday. Those conditions are lessening, he said.
Shrubs in the fire area had collected dried twigs in their canopies for decades, said Max Moritz, co-director of Center for Fire Research and Outreach, at the University of California, Berkeley, in a telephone interview on May 7.
More than 32,000 fires have burned about 1.1 million acres in the U.S. this year, the third-biggest area at the start of a fire season in the past 10 years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
Last year at this time, 20,473 wildfires had burned about 1.3 million acres.
California Wildfire Grows;
30,500 Flee Homes
By Brian K. Sullivan and Ryan Flinn
May 8 (Bloomberg) --
Dry air and high winds are
frustrating efforts to
control a California
wildfire that has driven
more than 30,500 people
from their homes on the
edge of Santa Barbara and
cost more than $2.6
million to battle.
The blaze, which began
May 5, is about 10 percent
contained and has
destroyed or damaged 75
homes, said Jodi Dyck, a
Santa Barbara County’s
Center, which itself had
to be evacuated.
Today’s forecast was
for temperatures in the
90s Fahrenheit (30s
Celsius), with dry air and
wind gusts as high as 40
miles per hour (64
kilometers per hour), the
National Weather Service
said. The fire is about
100 miles northwest of Los
“It’s just a continued
battle against the
weather,” Dyck said by
telephone today. “The
winds continue, and it is
burning in steep areas
with a lot of dense
vegetation and a lot of
The blaze caught forest
experts by surprise, said
Max Moritz, 45,
co-director of the
University of California,
Center for Fire Research
and Outreach, in a
“It is very early, the
plants still appear to be
quite full of moisture,
and when you look at the
ferocity of this wind
condition, that’s when you
say it is surprising,” he
Dead Vegetation Blamed
National Weather Service
in Oxnard, citing a “large
amount of dead fuel” that
may lead to rapid fire
growth, issued a “red flag
warning” for the area
until tomorrow morning. A
red flag warning means
conditions exist to
promote “explosive fire
growth potential,” the
The high winds are
caused when air bottles up
in the valleys and then is
let loose by a pressure
differential between the
mountains and the ocean,
Mike Pigott, a
meteorologist with private
The winds, which tend
to appear in the
afternoons, are called
“sundowners” and can roar
down the valleys, driving
hot, dry air through the
region, Pigott said in a
telephone interview today.
Yesterday, a wind gust of
79 miles per hour was
“We’re worried about
Morgantini said by
Shrubs in the fire area
have collected decades’
worth of dried twigs in
their canopy, fueling the
blaze, said Moritz. The
buildup isn’t caused by
years of fire suppression,
“There isn’t any such
thing as a low-severity
fire in the shrub lands,”
Moritz said. “The hot, dry
wind event has opened the
door to what looks like a
More than 32,000 fires
have burned about 1.1
million acres in the U.S.
this year, the
third-biggest area at the
start of a fire season in
the past 10 years,
according to the
National Interagency Fire
Center in Boise,
Idaho. Last year at this
time, 20,473 wildfires had
burned about 1.3 million
SANTA BARBARA, California (Reuters) -
A California wildfire burned for a
fourth day on Friday above the seaside
town of Santa Barbara as firefighters
hoped the weather would help them gain a
measure of control over the flames that
have destroyed 75 homes.
Another 3,500 homes and about 100
businesses remained in immediate
jeopardy from the so-called Jesusita
fire, which had blackened more than
3,500 acres in the foothills above the
picturesque community by the time
darkness began to fall on Friday
evening. It destroyed 75 homes and
forced thousands of people to flee.
No civilian casualties have been
reported so far but the blaze has
injured 11 firefighters, three of them
hospitalized with burns and smoke
Crews battling days of hot, dry
erratic winds have made little progress
in controlling the firestorm but were
cautiously optimistic that unexpectedly
calm, moist conditions at dusk could
give them that chance.
The most dangerous time of day has
proven to be nightfall, when the hot,
unpredictable "sundowner" winds pick up
and fan the flames through steep canyons
into neighborhoods of
'THE WIND COULD CHANGE'
"We have an onshore condition and
when the air is coming off the ocean the
humidity is fairly high and pushes the
fire back away from the community,"
Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Tom
Franklin told a late-afternoon news
"And both of those things are good
for now but the predictions are that the
sundowner condition is still there,"
Franklin said. "The wind could change
and blow the fire downhill."
As of Friday evening, about 21,000 area
residents were under a mandatory
evacuation order with another 10,000
warned that they should be ready to get
out at a moment's notice, county
That amounts to more than half of the
population of Santa Barbara, located 90
miles northwest of Los Angeles.
"Right now, if you are not evacuated
in the Santa Barbara area, you are
sheltering evacuees," city Fire Chief
Andrew DiMizio told Reporters. "This has
affected the entire community."
He said fire crews fought a heroic
battle to keep the blaze from pushing
southward through a key park and into
the city proper while other teams
scrambled to put out roof fires at the
edge of town.
Supermodel-turned clothing designer
Kathy Ireland was among those who had to
flee the fire.
"Santa Barbara fires ... We are OK!"
she wrote on her Twitter page on Friday
afternoon. "Being evacuated, pls pray
for all! Finding place 2stay .. will be
in touch when can Thanks! God bless
The area's last major brush fire, in
November, destroyed more than 200 homes
in Santa Barbara and nearby communities.
That blaze was blamed on a bonfire
started by local students. The latest
fire remains under investigation.
(Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by
imperils Santa Barbara; homes lost
By JEFF WILSON –
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) —
Paradise is not lost, but it's in flames —
The seasonal wildfires that menace
this idyllic coastal city roared to life
earlier than usual but with
all-too-familiar ferocity, burning
mansions to their foundations and forcing
about 12,000 to flee. Dozens of homes were
destroyed, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
"I knew it was time to leave," said
Tom Morse, 62, a day after he dusted off
his motorhome as the fire neared his
Mission Canyon Heights house. "I could see
the flames getting close."
The 1,300-acre (2.03-square mile)
fire was just the latest to ravage the
area known as the American Riviera, home
to screen stars, former presidents and
Oprah Winfrey. The blaze reached the burn
area of another wildfire that just six
months ago destroyed about 200 homes in
Santa Barbara and Montecito.
The latest fire remained out of
control and firefighters were on alert for
a predicted return of a "sundowner" —
fierce winds that sweep down late in the
day from the Santa Ynez Mountains towering
close behind Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Tom
Franklin said the winds had not returned
by Thursday evening, but he warned that
"we're not out of the woods yet."
A sundowner on Wednesday afternoon
turned a slumbering brush fire on rugged
slopes above the city into a towering
wildfire that hurled flames into homes and
spit embers into more distant
About 4,700 homes remained
evacuated, and another 12,000 people were
advised to be ready to leave.
"It started firestorming
dramatically," said Gregg Patronyk, a
lifelong Santa Barbara resident who
grabbed a hose and started wetting his
roof when he saw other houses ablaze. "The
fire got within 200 to 300 feet of my
"There was a lot of pressure to
leave," he said. "Police wanted me out and
I got a frantic call from my sister, who
was walking up the hill to get me. So I
packed up the car and left, picking her up
on the way."
Nearly 1,400 firefighters from many
departments were on the lines, aided by
Authorities reported 10 firefighters
injured, including three who sheltered in
a house during a firestorm. They were in
good condition at a Los Angeles burn
center but two faced surgery. Other
injuries ranged from smoke inhalation to
Structure losses were still being
counted but the numbers were expected to
be in the dozens, not hundreds, said Joe
Waterman, the incident commander from the
California Department of Forestry and Fire
Franklin said the destruction during
Wednesday's firestorm could have been much
"There maybe should have been
hundreds of homes lost due to the amount
of fuel in that canyon and the 70 mph
winds," he said. "There was some real
effort made on that fire front and some
real saves that the firefighters made out
The city's location on the state's
central coast gives it some of the best
weather in the world, with temperatures
routinely topping out in the 70s, and
views of the Pacific Ocean. Now with a
population of about 90,000, it dates to
the Spanish colonial era of California and
a Roman Catholic mission established in
the 1780s is a major tourist draw.
Ronald Reagan's Rancho del Cielo in
the mountains became his western retreat
during his presidency. In 1992
President-elect Bill Clinton and his
family spent a pre-inaugural vacation at
an estate in nearby Summerland.
Over the decades, celebrities
ranging from Charlie Chaplin to
Christopher Lloyd and Rob Lowe have been
drawn to the area. In 2007,
then-presidential candidate Barack Obama
made a speech on a Santa Barbara hillside
en route to a celebrity-studded fundraiser
at Winfrey's estate in nearby Montecito.
But the geography that gives the
area beauty and a serene atmosphere also
"I'm from the East Coast and at this
point I'd rather put up with this than the
winter," said evacuee Jim Hatch, 40, an
illustrator who returned home to pick up
clothes Thursday and motored up Jesusita
Road on a baby blue Piaggio scooter to see
State Assemblyman Pedro Nava fled
Wednesday with his wife, two dogs and a
cat. They tossed pictures, documents and a
few days of clothes into a car and went to
the home of a friend.
"I've learned how important
preparation is in an emergency," he said.
"The public has to be prepared to move,
and in Santa Barbara they are prepared.
When the police squad car came through
with loudspeakers telling us to leave,
there was no arguing. And they will all be
Morse, the executive director of the
environmental group Global Preservation
Projects, said he's not surprised by so
many fires, blaming it on global warming.
"Temperatures are rising and
humidity levels are dropping. It means
more fires," he said.
Global warming can't be blamed for
specific fires, but it creates conditions
that foster larger and more frequent
wildfires, scientists say.
"A warming climate encourages
wildfires through a longer summer period
that dries fuels, promoting easier
ignition and faster spread," the Nobel
Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change wrote in 2007.
Hatch, the scooter-riding
illustrator, said his wife grew up in
"Her family thinks this is normal,"
he said. "But after living here for 20
years I think the fires are getting
Elsewhere, a southern New Mexico
wildfire destroyed three homes and damaged
a fourth near the small mountain community
of Timberon. It also burned five
outbuildings, such as sheds and garages,
and 10 vehicles, fire information officer
Darlene Hart said. Twenty homes were
In southeastern Arizona, winds
cooperated Thursday in holding down a
wildfire that had destroyed three homes
and critically injured a man, officials
said. That blaze was 30 percent contained.
Associated Press writers Raquel
Maria Dillon in Santa Barbara and Seth
Borenstein in Washington, D.C.,
contributed to this report.
By TAMAS VIRAG, SUN
MEDIA Friend Daniel Farrer surveys
yesterday the property of
George and Hughena Granger,
south of Highway 28 and east
of Range Road 230. (Amber
Bracken, Sun Media) Fires burn near Edmonton
About half a dozen cabins at a
Bruderheim-area camp for at-risk youth
have been razed by the wildfires that
continue to wreak havoc northeast of
"Now we have no facilities for the
female campers overnight. We have to
develop a tent camp or something for
the girls," Vern Johnston, spokesman
for Shiloh Youth Ranch, said
"We will run our full camp, it's
just going to be a little more of an
adventure than they might have
originally planned, that's all. It's a
ranch camp and it's supposed to be
rustic, so there you go."
STAFF TRAILER GONE
Roughly seven of the camp's cabins
and a staff trailer were consumed by
the massive blaze sometime Tuesday.
The cabins, now charred concrete
and steel skeletons, were worth about
$10,000 each, Johnston said, adding
that all workers and animals at the
camp were evacuated safely.
Strathcona County fire Chief
Darrell Reid said firefighters managed
to save most of the ranch, including
the operation's main buildings.
The fire, originally two separate
blazes from Lamont and Strathcona
counties that grew into one, has
doubled its presence in Strathcona
County and covered a total of more
than 10,000 hectares as of yesterday
More than 100 firefighters from the
two counties are being helped by
dozens of Alberta Sustainable Resource
Development (SRD) workers, who have
brought in bulldozers, helicopters and
other machinery to battle the blaze.
While the fire continues to spread,
Reid - who called it "the largest fire
in recent Strathcona County history" -
said cooler temperatures, slightly
more humid air and showers helped
firefighters yesterday morning, but
the end is not yet in sight.
A smaller fire in southeast
Strathcona County was quickly brought
under control yesterday.
Residents of more than 30 homes in
the two counties have been ordered to
evacuate, though some have been
allowed to return to their homes in
FOUR HOMES DESTROYED
Meanwhile, nearby Sturgeon County
is facing similar challenges, with
four of 22 evacuated homes succumbing
to flames in recent days.
"The fires are still considered out
of control. They breached in a few
places, but (firefighters) managed to
beat them back," Sturgeon County
spokesman Denise Martell said
yesterday afternoon, adding SRD
personnel are also helping
firefighters in her county. "They're
hoping for rain and they're hoping for
the winds to die down."
Some residents scrambled to save
Jim Bindon, who lives at Township
Road 572 and Range Road 225, managed
to save his house by containing flames
to the lawn, but his barn burnt to the
"I've lived here 15 years now and
this is nothing new," Bindon said.
"This one, however, is the first one
to burn right through the property."
Others like Harlyn Mauer and his
family decided not to stick around.
The couple and their two children
evacuated their home at Township Road
572 and Range Road 224 Tuesday
afternoon, grabbing valuables and
fleeing to relatives'.
Three wildfires burn along U.S. 31
Mon, Apr 13, 2009
SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — It took about 30
minutes for firefighters to put out three
separate grass fires along U.S. 31 in Spring
Lake Township over the weekend.
The Spring Lake Fire Department was
called to the fires at around 1 p.m. Saturday,
Fire Chief Rick Nuvill said. The three fires
were burning for about a mile-long stretch of
the highway, he said.
The Norton Shores Fire Department was
also called to the fires, Nuvill said. The
fires were extinguished in about a half-hour.
They were mainly contained to grass and did
not threaten any structures, Nuvill said, and
no property was damaged.
Tornadoes, Wildfires Tear through Southern US
An aerial view of tornado
damage in Murfreesboro, Tenn., 10 Apr 2009Tornadoes ripped through the southern U.S. state of
Tennessee Friday, killing a woman and her baby and
causing extensive property damage.
Officials said the storms in the city of Murfreesboro
also sent at least 35 people to the hospital.
Authorities said the severe weather blew into Tennessee
from the southwest, where on Thursday a tornado in the
state of Arkansas killed three people. The governor of
Arkansas, Mike Beebe, declared disaster areas in three
counties in the state.
Further west, in Texas, officials said at least three
people were killed in wildfires fueled by dry, windy
The fires have destroyed dozens of homes in Texas and
the neighboring state of Oklahoma since they started on
Thursday. There are reports that one blaze in Oklahoma
was intentionally set.
The governor of Oklahoma, Brad Henry, declared a state
of emergency in 31 affected counties.
Some information for this
report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
Wildfires that whipped across drought-parched
_ Young/Jack counties — 28,000+
acres, 30 percent contained. 127 homes evacuated,
seven homes and 36 outbuildings lost in Young
County; two homes and 10 outbuildings lost in Jack
_ Archer County — 20,000 acres, 75 percent
contained, three structures destroyed.
_ Eastland County — 7,000+ acres, 25 percent
contained, towns of Cisco and Eastland are
_ Wichita County — 4,500 acres, 75 percent
contained, 800 residences and a nursing home
evacuated, two homes and one large commercial
_ Stephens County — 3,200 acres, 70 percent
_ Shackelford County — estimated 10,000
acres, unknown containment.
_ Montague County — 38,000 acres, unknown
containment, fire burned through towns of
Stoneburg and Sunset, three citizen fatalities
confirmed, estimated 100 homes lost.
_ Jack County — (Roberts Branch) 5,000
acres, unknown containment, 24 homes threatened,
two homes lost.
Compiled by the Texas Forest Service on
Humans cause 3 Gila wildfiresSun News Report
SILVER CITY — Gila National Forest
firefighters responded to three separate
human-caused fires in the past several
weeks, according to a news release.
The most recent of the three
wildfires was the Lincoln Canyon fire in
the Mimbres Valley, reported at 12:30
a.m. Saturday morning. A quick response
by a local volunteer fire department and
Forest Service firefighters resulted in
the fire being controlled at 10 acres.
The cause of the fire is currently under
Two additional human-caused fires
totaling 15 acres were also reported in
late March, the Piñon fire on the
Reserve Ranger District and the Monument
fire on the Wilderness Ranger District.
Both fires have been controlled.
"A wildfire in the wrong place at the
wrong time can result in an undesirable
outcome," said Loretta Benavidez, fire
prevention coordinator. "Human-caused
fires generally occur near populated
areas or in areas where a wildfire could
possibly do more harm than good ...
that's why it's important to respond
quickly, with the primary emphasis on
public and firefighter safety."
The wildfire prevention program is an
important part of the overall fire and
fuels management program on the forest.
As visitation to the forest
increases, especially with the upcoming
Easter holiday weekend and as turkey
hunting activities begin, it is
important for all visitors to remember
to practice fire safety.
There are no fire or smoking
restrictions in place on the forest at
this time, but key fire prevention
measures should still be taken.
Before leaving campsites and picnic
areas, make sure that campfires are dead
Hot charcoal briquettes coals should
be discarded appropriately. Keep them
away from flammable vegetation.
If you smoke, do so responsibly, use
vehicle ashtrays and smoke in areas that
are free of vegetation when smoking
To report a wildfire, please call
911. For additional information about
fire prevention and fire safety, please
contact the fire information officer at
Florida County reports 900 acres torched by wildfire
By KYLE MARTIN
Published: April 10, 2009
BROOKSVILLE - To date, Hernando County has
seen a two-thirds increase in wildfires over this
time last year, according to a county fire official.
Roughly 900 county acres have been torched so far,
including the 650-acre fire last month in the
Withlacoochee State Forest. County firefighters
dumped some 60,000 gallons of water on that fire,
which state officials determined was suspicious.
Hernando County isn't alone. Statewide, there has
been double the number of wildfires when compared to
last year. All told, 1,570 wildfires have burned
43,565 acres in 2009, according to the Florida
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Much of the blame for the spike in wildfires can be
passed onto a deepening drought. While recent rains
have flooded the Panhandle, Friday's drought index
shows Hernando County in the range of 650-699. The
maximum score, meaning desert-like conditions, is
A lengthy cold snap at the beginning of the year was
responsible for creating an abundance of dry
underbrush. Recent rains have helped green up some
of the landscape, but a significant portion of
wildfire fuel remains, said Assistant Chief Frank
DeFrancesco of Hernando County Fire Rescue.
Unfortunately, "we're still getting into the worst
of it," DeFrancesco said.
Up to this point, all of the fires can be attributed
to manmade causes, such as arson, vehicle fires,
cigarette butts and power lines. But the
thunderstorm season will kick off in the next six
weeks, bringing with it much-needed rain but also
"That's our big fear now," DeFrancesco said.
Sunday marks the beginning of Wildfire Awareness
Week, which recognizes the 1998 wildfire season that
scorched more than 500,000 acres and burned 337
"… There is a very good chance that we will see an
increase in wildfire activity in central and south
Florida over the coming weeks and months," Florida
Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner
Charles Bronson said in a prepared statement.
Hernando County is currently under a burn ban,
meaning no yard trash can be burned by private
citizens. A permit must be obtained from the
Division of Forestry for any burning in the county.
Reporter Kyle Martin can be
reached at 352-544-5271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Montague County: Deadly Wildfires
Story Created: Apr
10, 2009 at 5:50 PM CDT
Montague County was among the counties most
affected by recent wildfires; the blazes left
three people dead.
"It looks like somebody dropped a bomb.
Anything that was in its path is gone--totally
consumed by the fire," said Montague County
Sheriff Paul Cunningham. Not only did the
wildfires claim lives, the blazes also
destroyed vegetation, killed livestock, and
The Montague County Sheriff's Department
reports that they believe the Quinns, a couple
in their 60s, perished in the fires, but
official confirmation of the victims'
identities is still pending. The Department
believes the couple was trapped in their home
by the blaze and unable to escape. It is
believed that they stayed behind to fight off
flames. These deaths were a tragedy that
Sheriff Cunningham feels could have been
They knew the fire was coming,
Cunningham reported. Despite entreaties from
firefighters to evacuate their home, the
Quinns stayed to battle the fire in an attempt
to save their home. "A house is not worth it,
your belongings are not worth it," Sheriff
Also in the home at the time was the
Quinns' son, who is in his 30s. The
son suffered third-degree burns to his face,
hands, and feet.
Sheriff Cunningham says another man had
some sort of health problem during the fire,
but died while being transported to the
hospital. Officials blame the fire for
attributing to his death.
Most of the blazes are contained,
according to Sheriff Cunningham, but the
hardest part is a lack of man power and
"When you face 5 fires at the
devastation we had, at one time, you don't
have the resources," he says.
Another frustration during the fires was
theft. A generator that belonged to an
assisting fire department was stolen.
If you have any information on this
theft, or if you know of anyone who is in need
of shelter, food, or clothes, you are urged to
call the Montague County Sheriff's Department
Former CBS 3 Reporter Dies In Texas Wildfire
PHILADELPHIA (CBS 3) ― Fast-moving wildfires in
Texas claimed the lives of former KYW-TV reporter Matt
Quinn and his wife last week.
According to WFFA.com, Quinn, 80, his 63-year-old wife
Cathy and their son, Chris, were attempting to flee
their Montague home when they were overtaken by the
intense wildfires Thursday. Mr. and Mrs. Quinn were
killed; their son survived and treated at an area burn
Quinn was a seasoned reporter who held a number of
positions during his broadcast career. He spent time at
KYW-TV in the 70s where he worked as a general
assignment reporter and anchor. Quinn also co-hosted the
political program "Meetinghouse" with the late Jessica
"We worked together at KYW then competed against each
other in Texas. He never forgot his time in Philadelphia
reporting on city hall where he and Mayor Rizzo squared
off on more than a few occasions," said former CBS 3
Executive Producer Frank Traynor.
After leaving Philly, Quinn joined the network as an ABC
News Correspondent and later moved on to work for WFAA
in Texas where he became a household name until his
retirement in the 1980s.
"Matt was a great storyteller who let the pictures and
sound set the mood and communicate the story to the
audience. He very rarely ever wanted to put himself into
the story so it is ironic that he became the focus of
this tragic story," Traynor said.
According to his obituary, Quinn and his wife are
survived by their sons Chris Quinn of Montague, Texas,
Gene Quinn of Conyers, Ga., Ted Quinn of Globe, Ariz.,
and three daughters, Betsy Quinn Krause of Globe, Ariz.,
Kelley Ferrell of Forney, Susan Costigan of Blackwood,
New Jersey. He also had eight grandchildren and a
High winds cause damage, feed wildfires;
Clyde schools evacuated for 2 hours
Emily Peters, Jared
Fields and Celinda Emison
Originally published 11:00 a.m., April 9, 2009
High winds blasted through the
Abilene area today, feeding a number
of fires, causing damage and
disrupting scheduled sports events.
Two Clyde schools were evacuated
for about two hours because of a
grass fire, and a billboard crashed
onto the Winters Freeway that
blocked traffic lanes for about 30
Firefighters said the fire
near Clyde High School was brought
under control by about 1:35 p.m. and
that no school buildings were
"We’ve got a hold on it right
now," Clyde Fire Chief Billy Dezern
said. "We are still working numerous
hot spots, and we are experiencing
very, very high winds, but it's
coming under control. None of the
school structures are in danger."
The fire near Clyde High
School flared up around lunch time,
and school officials called in buses
to take students to locations away
from the blaze.
Clyde students were taken to
the First Financial Bank and the
First Baptist Church.
An administrative assistant at
the school district's main office
said it appeared that students were
evacuated safely with no injuries.
While school district buildings
didn't appear to have any fire
damage, some of the surrounding
school grounds may have been burned
by the flames.
A fire at the Howard Johnson
Plaza Hotel, in the 5200 block of
South 1st Street on the west side of
Abilene, produced plenty of smoke
but was quickly put out by the
Abilene Fire department. No estimate
of damage was reported.
The Texas Forest Service
responded to numerous fires in the
Big Country, including a large grass
fire in Breckenridge where over
2,500 acres have burned. A TFS
strike force was on the scene and
another en route, officials said. At
3 p.m. the fire was about 5 percent
contained, TFS spokesman John
Earlier today, TFS responded
to a seven acre fire in Jones
County, which was contained quickly.
A wildfire was also blazing on
County Roads 585 and 110 on the
Brown and Coleman County line, which
was threatening structures and
forcing evacuations, according to
officials at the Brownwood Fire
Fires were also reported in
May and Rising Star, north of
Brownwood. By mid-afternoon, no
structures had been threatened and
no evacuations needed.
Another grass fire was
reported in Comanche County, near
the Indian Ridge Dairy, two miles
south of Comanche on Highway 16. At
3:20 p.m. emergency management
officials said the fire was fully
active, but no structures or
livestock were threatened and no
Authorities reported earlier
in the afternoon that a Lamar
billboard was blown down and blocked
traffic on the Winters Freeway for
about 30 minutes. The billboard
blocked two lanes of traffic in the
southbound lanes between South 14th
Street and Southwest Drive until
highway personnel dragged it off the
freeway about 12:40 p.m.
An officer at the scene
radioed back that a second billboard
was also vulnerable and could be at
risk of crashing down.
A fire in the 2200 block of
Industrial Boulevard was also
believed to be wind-related, caused
possibly by sparking wires, a
The fire was in the attic at
the Overhead Door business on the
corner of Sayles Boulevard and
Industrial. It was knocked down in
about 30 minutes by the Abilene Fire
Department, and no injuries were
reported. The cause of the fire was
still under investigation, although
one witness suspected sparking
The wind briefly fed another
blaze, a grass fire southwest of
Abilene Regional Airport on Colony
Hill Road between Oldham Lane and
Highway 36. This fire was slowed by
a creek embankment and contained by
authorities within about an hour
after being reported.
An area west of the Winters
Freeway near South 14th St. was
reportedly without power for a time
about the middle of the day,
including Bassetti Elementary
School. Traffic lights were out in
Because of the high winds, the
District 2 class 3A golf tournament
in Snyder was postponed until
Monday, and the Abilene-Cooper high
school non-district softball game
was canceled and will not be
The National Weather Service
has issued a high wind warning today
across the entire Big Country.
Sustained southwest winds of
35 to 45 miles per hour are expected
throughout the afternoon, and gusts
are expected to exceed 50 mph,
according to the NWS. Caution is
advised because winds above 55 mph
can cause property damage.
After 4 p.m., winds are
expected to decrease to 5 to 15 mph
sustained winds but with gusts up to
35 mph this evening.
Temperatures today should
reach into the mid-80s with an
overnight low dropping into the
The next chance of rain in the
Big Country will come Saturday with
a 20 percent chance of
thunderstorms, followed by a 70
percent chance of storms on Easter
morning this Sunday.
wildfires force evacuations, injure
By Matt Strasen, Amarillo
Globe-News, via AP
WHEELER, Texas (AP) — Firefighters on Sunday
continued to battle several wildfires that erupted
across Texas over the weekend.
The largest of those
fires, an 11,000-acre blaze near the Panhandle town
of Wheeler near the Texas-Oklahoma border, destroyed
four homes and damaged about 20 others, according to
the Texas Forest Service.
Forest Service spokeswoman
Jeanne Eastham said Sunday that the fire was about
25% contained. Strong winds continued to hamper
firefighting efforts there and elsewhere.
Many of Wheeler's 1,300
residents were evacuated Saturday after the wildfire
jumped the North Fork of the Red River, threatening
the town, about 90 miles east of Amarillo. They were
able to return home Saturday night.
Meanwhile, a 2,170-acre
wildfire in Jack County was about 65% contained
Sunday, Eastham said. More than a dozen households
were evacuated Saturday night, but were allowed to
return home about midnight.
Eastham said the winds and
gusts of up to 35 mph were making it difficult to
control the fire.
"Anytime you have the
wind, it makes it harder to control the fire," she
said. "They really have a lot of crews up there to
hold that line and reinforce it. And they have
assistance from surrounding counties."
Two smaller wildfires were
reported Saturday also continued to burn Sunday. A
300-acre blaze in Jeff Davis County was about 60%
contained on Sunday. Crews worked late Saturday
night and on Sunday battling a 100-acre fire in
Forest Service officials
said 24 firefighters were treated for smoke
inhalation Saturday. All but four were able to
return to work.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All
Dozens of homes
destroyed by wildfires
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas, April 3
(UPI) -- Wildfires in the Corpus
Christi, Texas, area, driven by
strong winds, destroyed more than
three dozen homes, authorities
Live Oak County Sheriff's
Office officials said the
wildfires outside the Texas city
Thursday also destroyed dozens of
sheds and vehicles, while causing
an unspecified number of injuries,
KGBT-TV of Harlingen, Texas,
The primary wildlife was
contained thanks to several
bulldozers that were used to
create fire breaks. Firefighting
vehicles from the Texas Forestry
Service as well as nearby
communities were brought in to
help fight the blazes.
While Thursday's fires appear
to have been contained,
AccuWeather.com said Friday that
the high winds that helped spread
the blazes has created a high fire
danger for the area.
The weather Web site said the
winds, which reached speeds of up
to 50 mph Thursday, have created a
high potential for additional
blazes between West Texas to the
EDMOND, Okla. (AP) — Several wildfires broke out across
Oklahoma Friday, and weather conditions that contributed
to the rapid spread of the flames were expected to improve
only slightly during the weekend.
No serious injuries have been
A grass fire threatened more than
a dozen homes in a new Edmond housing addition before being
brought under control shortly after noon, said Edmond
Assistant Fire Chief Tim Wheeler.
The addition does not yet have
fire hydrants and trucks from Edmond, Guthrie, Deer Creek
and Oak Cliff fire departments were hauling in water to help
fight the flames.
A fire was also burning in the
Weleetka area, about 70 miles south of Tulsa Friday
afternoon. There were some reports of damage to businesses,
but details were scant. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol closed
U.S. 75 through the Okfuskee County town
Entire Oklahoma town flees as fires
All residents of Taloga, Oklahoma,
were evacuated because of fire
Entire population of about 400
people allowed back in
Wildfires have been burning in
northwest and central Oklahoma since Thursday
Wildfire also burning near towns of
(CNN) -- The entire population of
Taloga, Oklahoma, was evacuated Thursday
because of a raging fire that has burned
tens of thousands of acres, officials said
Wildfire threatens a house in
Edmond, Oklahoma, on Friday.
All of the residents,
about 400, left the Dewey County town, but
have been allowed back in, said Bill Challis
with the fire department in Clinton,
Oklahoma, south of Taloga. Clinton is among
dozens of fire departments helping battle
Wildfires have been
burning in northwest and central Oklahoma
since Thursday, according to the state
Department of Emergency Management.
A large wildfire also
came within inches of homes north of Edmond
late Friday morning and was still burning
during the noon hour, CNN affiliate KOCO
of Public Safey officials also report that
one to two city blocks of Weleetka, in
Okfuskee County, were on fire, according to
The Federal Emergency
Management Agency has approved the state's
request for federal assistance for fighting
the wildfire in Dewey County, where Taloga
LINN — A major wildfire burned through this small
town for hours Friday, forcing residents of the Lazy
Palms RV Park to flee their homes, said Tony Peña, the
Hidalgo County emergency management coordinator.
No injuries were reported, Peña said. However, the
fire spread across 1,650 acres and destroyed at least
one structure, a mobile home that was not occupied at
Emergency management officials ordered an
evacuation of 150 residents at the Lazy Palms
subdivision, located near the intersection of Floral
Road and Highway 281, and asked residents to take
shelter at nearby Brewster School.
"(Emergency personnel) seem to have everything
under control," said Burke Kasburg, 63, a Winter Texan
from Michigan who was driving his recreational vehicle
out of the park about 4 p.m.
"But better safe than sorry," said his wife,
Others drove off without their RVs, leaving most
of their belongings behind.
"We're scared," said Joanne Bahnke, 74, of
Wisconsin. "We're leaving right now."
The massive fire broke out shortly before 2:30
p.m. and was 80 percent contained by late Friday night,
according to a Hidalgo County statement. Peña said the
blaze scorched a large, grassy area between Floral Road
and Miller Road near Highway 281.
Emergency personnel from about two dozen agencies
were on the scene Friday to help firefighters from the
Linn-San Manuel Fire Department put out the blaze as
ambulances rushed to transport incapacitated residents
away from their homes.
Air tankers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service and the U.S. Forest Service dropped water on the
fire and kept it from spreading significantly.
"That's what helped us contain it," Peña said.
Lazy Palms residents were allowed to return to
their homes once the fire was contained about 7 p.m.
A press release from the county said the Linn-San
Manuel Fire Department would investigate the cause of
the fire, but it was "highly suspected that the fire was
caused by a hot particle igniting dry grass."
Ana Ley covers law enforcement and general
assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached
at (956) 683-4428.
Deliberately set by a madman
Australia wildfire death toll reaches 200
By KRISTEN GELINEAU
MELBOURNE, Australia — A judge launched an inquiry into
the deadly Australian wildfires on Tuesday as authorities
announced they would find ways to make the region safer before
the next season of inevitable blazes.
Police raised the death toll to 200 from the Feb. 7 fires
that raged across southern Victoria state, saying it would climb
further as more bodies were recovered from the devastation. A
firefighter, meanwhile, was crushed by a falling branch — the
first death in the fire zone since the disaster.
Former Victoria state Supreme Court Justice Bernard Teague
outlined his first steps in what officials say will be one of
the largest and most complex disaster investigations ever seen
in Australia. The inquiry will determine the cause of the
inferno and how to avoid a repeat of its tragic results.
Teague's 40 million Australian dollar ($26 million)
commission will submit its report before the next wildfire
season in August so the government can take preventative steps.
Teague said he will begin meeting fire victims and
authorities within the next two weeks. Court-like hearings will
follow with many hundreds of witnesses.
"We want to get out and talk to members of the public to
the maximum extent possible and at the end of six months make
recommendations for changes in respect to those matters we
perceive to be urgent and important," Teague told reporters.
But the recommendations could take months to implement and
the next wildfire season, normally starting in early November,
will be looming.
"Doing nothing is just not an option," state Premier John
Brumby told reporters in Traralgon South, a township hit hard by
the fires. "I think the public would think we're not doing our
job if there aren't some stronger controls that are put in place
The nightmarish blazes tore across Victoria with 400 fires
destroying more than 1,800 homes and scorching about 1,500
square miles (3,900 square kilometers) of farms, forests and
Police suspect at least two of the fires were deliberately
set, and have charged one man with arson causing death and
lighting a wildfire. Brendan Sokaluk, 39, faces a maximum
sentence of 25 years on the first charge and 15 years on the
second. He was being held in protective custody to prevent
revenge attacks against him.
A class-action lawsuit was filed against electricity
supplier SP AusNet, alleging that defective power lines caused
losses and damage in connection with one of the fires. SP AusNet,
which is 51 percent owned by the Singapore Power Group, said it
would "vigorously defend" the claim.
Firefighters continued to work in dangerous conditions in
the smoky wastelands. On Tuesday night a firefighter was killed
near Marysville after a tree branch fell on his truck, police
spokeswoman Karla Dennis said in a statement.
Authorities confirmed the remains of 11 more people found
Tuesday near the town of Kinglake and surrounding areas. The
identification process was still under way, and the death count
of 200 will rise, police spokesman Marty Beveridge said.
A senior police commander acknowledged that some of the
victims would likely never be identified as their remains had
disintegrated into ash in the intense flames.
"Fire does terrible damage to bodies and the
identification process is going to be a lengthy process and it's
going to require scientific examination," police Deputy
Commissioner Kieran Walshe told The Associated Press. "In some
cases it will be within a few weeks ... in other cases it may
well be we're unable to be definitive about the identity."
From the air, it's like Armageddon
Article from: Herald Sun, AU - John Ferguson
February 09, 2009 12:00am
DEATH'S cruel hand struck with such brutal force. The fires did not
discriminate against the young or the old, the well-prepared or the
The view from the air confirmed the stories on the ground and maybe
even added true perspective.
Hundreds of houses flattened, untold hectares of farmland and parks
scorched; giant eucalypts rendered little more than black knitting
needles on the slopes of the ranges.
There will be many, many lives lost.
Grown men wept as they told of the heat and the wind. Then, they said,
came the smoke, the embers and the apocalyptic roar.
Again - understandably - many who were hungry for life tried in vain
to out-run nature. Littered across the fire scenes yesterday were the
carcasses of cars where the owners had gambled on a last-minute dash
The desperate fight for life could be seen so graphically from above.
Scores of houses were blown apart by the force of the wind, fire and
From the edge of Whittlesea to within spitting distance of Healesville
it seemed like dozens of houses were razed.
We've seen this, but maybe never with the same intensity.
One driver's dash for life could be seen in a paddock between
Whittlesea and Kinglake, where a panel van's tyre tracks could be
traced for maybe 100m from a house before the nose of the vehicle was
dipped into the dam.
Who knows if he made it?
Further towards Kinglake, the destruction really took hold. Some
houses survived. Most didn't. The scenes were biblical. "Holy Jesus,"
our helicopter pilot uttered.
House after house battered to the ground, cars wrecked, property
hurled by the winds.
The fires tore through greenhouses, tractors, well-watered vines,
sheep, cattle. Not even playgrounds were safe.
Sheets of iron were blown hundreds of metres. Giant trees ripped from
Just outside Kinglake early yesterday, a small convoy of ambulances
was being led into town by the CFA. They would soon come across a
weird scene; four cars in a pile-up. All torched.
Firefighters have their rules when it comes to evacuations, but this
was a fire response without a creed.
Those that stayed were burnt. Those that fled too late were burnt.
Those that survived were dead lucky.
The wine-rich Yarra Valley should be a cradle of happiness. It, too,
was affected. Houses taken near Healesville. Vines wilted and burnt.
Some kilometres before reaching Healesville, the fire went nuts,
razing every house in its path.
A lonely woman could be seen walking her dogs along a ridge. It was a
rare sign of life.
Neighbours joined her and embraced. Around them, needle-stick trees
and burnt house after burnt house. Idyllic lives destroyed.
Nothing - nothing - can quite explain the sensation of flying low over
the ranges to discover the devastation in and around Marysville.
Another response from our pilot: "It's Armageddon."
It was also very Cyclone Tracy. It certainly was for those in the
Maybe 12 houses survived, the rest - and there were many - flattened.
Flames from burning gas outlets leapt into the atmosphere; houses were
burnt to the ground, the odd family plaything like a bike a charred
Gone were the main pub and the football club.
Birds, locals said, blown out of the sky. There is horror to be found
in that town.
By the side of the road near the main oval, covered by just a blanket,
a clump that looked decidedly human.
It was, said a local who inspected the awful scene, a "young woman".
Marysville was an utterly ghostly scene. Two horses roaming the
streets unchecked as our helicopter circled above.
Few dared tread its streets. Most evacuated to Alexandra. A couple of
older men did. Both wandered the blackened town sobbing. They had lost
friends, they had lost the town they loved.
Whatever your beliefs, say a prayer for Daryl Hull. As gas tanks
exploded, he had to jump in the lake near the footy oval on Saturday
evening to save himself.
"It was pandemonium," he recalled. "I thought, 'Jesus, this is it'."
Family property was affected and for much of his lonely walk through
the town he wept.
Just like the old fellow who walked near the blanket with the body. He
wept and cursed as well.
The path of destruction didn't stop at Marysville.
This is no cliche: it was exactly like a cyclone had torn through the
From Marysville towards Alexandra, scores of trees fell on to the main
highway. In Marysville, a small car was crushed by a tree. It seemed
too much to even wonder whether the occupants could have lived through
Same goes for the burnt wreck on the edge of town, a giant stream of
water gushing from a burst main into the sky. Only a miracle could
have saved those inside.
Just down the road, Buxton burnt as well and locals who fled reported
flames 100m high marching towards their houses.
"The cloud plume was like an atomic bomb went off," said concreter
Rarely do such comparisons seem apt.
Then again, this destructive series of blazes from the Wimmera to
Gippsland, Bendigo and in between were the rarest of fires.
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Death toll soars in Australia fires
suspect some of the fires which have swept across southern
Australia were deliberately lit [AFP]
The death toll in the bushfires in southern Australia has risen to
at least 171 people, as rescue workers moved into towns devastated by
Firefighters continued to battle more than 20 major blazes early on
Tuesday as the state fire authority in Victoria warned of more
possible flare-ups across the region.
Nina Cullen of the emergency co-ordination centre in
Melbourne, told Al Jazeera: "Two areas are still under wind threat and
the next couple of days will be quite critical in fighting those
Police suspect that some of the fires which razed rural towns near
Melbourne, the country's second biggest city, were deliberately lit.
Peter Mitchell from Seven News Australia told Al Jazeera the
police are investigating the fire which left 5,000 people homeless in
Kingslake and killed at least 33 people.
"That fire started in a pine plantation. It's still not clear
whether it was the work of an arsonist, but there's a fire down the
Gippsland the police think was deliberately lit and the hunt is on for
Two people, including a teenage boy, have reportedly been arrested and
charged with arson.
"Everybody's gone. Everybody. Their houses are gone. They're all dead
in the houses there," Christopher Harvey, a resident of Kingslake,
"There are animals dead all over the road," he said.
Christine Nixon, Victoria police commissioner, told a news conference:
"What we've seen, I think, is that people didn't have enough time, in
"We're finding [bodies] on the side of roads, in cars that
Some of the fires eased on Monday but thousands of firefighters and
soldiers continued to battle dozens of blazes across an area of about
3,000 sq km across the states of Victoria, South Australia and New
Mitchell said firefighters in the affected areas were facing
difficulties tackling the blaze as swirling winds continued to spread
the fire in different directions.
Residents so far unaffected by the fires were anxiously waiting to see
if they would be hit by the devastating infernos.
"People are nervous, we are at the mercy of the weather," James Lacey,
a businessman from the town of Yackandandah, said.
Kevin Rudd, the country's prime minister, said authorities expected
the death toll to rise as firefighters and rescuers searched charred
buildings and pulled the remains of dozens of people.
"This is of a level of horror that few of us anticipated. There are
no words to describe it other than mass murder," he told Australian
More than 750 houses have been destroyed and around 80 people taken
to hospital with serious burns and injuries.
Many patients had burns to more than 30 per cent of their bodies and
some injuries were worse than the Bali bombings in 2002, said one
doctor at a hospital emergency department.
Kieran Walshe, the police deputy commissioner for Victoria state,
said the speed at which some of the fires took off indicated they
might have been deliberately lit.
"Some of these fires have started in localities that could only be
by hand, it could not be natural causes," he said.
Mike Rann, the premier of South Australia state, said on Sunday at
least 20 per cent of the fires in his state were started by arsonists
and another 20 per cent were the result of "stupidity or negligence".
"These people are terrorists within our nation, they are the enemy
within and we have to be increasingly vigilant about them," he said.
Arsonists were also relighting fires that had been brought under
control, Steve Warrington, a deputy chief of firefighting operations,
told local radio.
"While we often think it is spotting [embers spreading flames], we
also know that there are people lighting fires deliberately."
Victoria's bushfires are the worst natural disaster in Australia in
*Perilous Times and Global Warming
Death toll at 171 in Australian bush fires: Fears death toll could reach
The death toll from the devastating Australian bush fires could rise as
high as 230 as rescue teams move into new fire-damaged areas, authorities
By Bonnie Malkin in Melbourne
Last Updated: 5:48PM GMT 09 Feb 2009
The number of dead has shocked the nation, which is struggling to come
to terms with the extent of the damage wrought by the worst wild fires in
the country's history.
The toll from "Black Saturday" currently stands at 171, but the government
has warned the country to expect the figure to rise sharply as the search
for bodies continues.
Suspicions that some of the more than 400 fires were deliberately set
led police to declare crime scenes in towns in Victoria incinerated by
Prime minister Kevin Rudd, who has suspended parliament and is touring
the affected region, said whoever was responsible for lighting or
relighting the fires had committed "mass murder".
Firefighters are still battling 31 blazes across the state, including
fires at Yarra Glen and Heelsville that are threatening homes, and despite
a cool change in the weather the threat from the blazes is far from over.
The grim death toll amounts to at least three times the number of lives
lost in both the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983 and the Black Friday fires of
It comes as John Brumby, the Victorian premier, announced a Royal
Commission into the tragedy.
Mr Brumby said all aspects of the fires would be investigated and the
state's policy that advises people to either leave early or stay and fight
to defend their homes would be reviewed.
Australians have responded to the crisis unfolding in the southeastern
corner of the country with a tidal wave of donations and support.
Charities in the affected areas are overflowing with volunteers, as well
as clothing, food and offer of shelter and accommodation. One neon sign
stuck to a tree in Whittlesea even offered bushfire victims a "free wash
Forensic teams of investigators are moving into burned out houses and
farms, looking for evidence of how the infernos were started, and who
could have lit them.
Authorities have warned that the toll from the fires that swept through
the state "like a steam train" could still rise, as many people remained
Relatives of the missing have been warned it could be days before the
bodies are identified because the remains are so badly burned it is "like
they have been cremated".
A clearly-shaken Mr Rudd struggled to express his horror at the actions of
"What can you say? What can you say? There are no word to describe it
other than mass murder," he said.
"It is a level of horror few of us had anticipated." Keiran Walshe,
Victoria's deputy police commissioner, said finding who was to blame for
the fires would be difficult, but not impossible.
"There's always something that will tell us where the ignition point was
and what was used to ignite it. Then we can start to piece together who
could have done it." Police have warned that offenders implicated in the
fires could be charged with arson causing death, a crime that carries a 25
year prison sentence.
But the search for the culprits will bring little comfort to the scores of
people left bereaved and homeless by the infernos.
On the outskirts of towns gutted by the fires, shellshocked surivors have
gathered in relief centres where food, clothing and counselling is being
provided by charities and volunteers.
Most have lost a family member or neighbour to the fires.
Others wait anxiously for news of their loved ones they have been unable
to contact since the blazes began.
More than 50 deaths came as a result of the massive Kinglake Complex fire.
The inferno destroyed the once-picturesque town of Marysville, burning
homes, a school and a petrol station to the ground. All that remains of
what was once Victoria's favourite honeymoon destination is several piles
of ash where homes and businesses once stood.
Stories of the extent of the devastation have started to emerge. In
Marysville the body of a woman burnt to death lies covered by a blanket on
the side of the road. Black dots underneath trees indicate where animals,
confused or frightened by the flames, also perished. There are reports
that one man, being airlifted to hospital because of horrific burns, was
inconsolable at the thought of leaving behind the bodies of his wife and
On man, desperate to get in touch with his wife and daughters, appealed
for information about them on national television.
Named only as Sam, he had been prevented from reaching the property where
his family had been staying because the roads were still too dangerous.
"I was talking to her on the phone but then she had to go because she said
it had got bad and they were blocked in by the fire," he told Channel
"I've been trying to get up the mountain but they won't let me up to see
if I can find them, I know where to go." But there were also amazing
stories of survival. One family sheltered under a wet blanket in a shallow
creek as a firestorm raged around them. Another man, who had been playing
Playstation in his bedroom when the fire reached his garden, spotted the
flames just in time to escape. One mother and her three children outran
three separate fires before reaching safety.
Fourteen fires are still burning out of control across the state, with a
blaze near Beechworth in the north causing the most concern.
As fire crews around the state attempt to contain the remaining blazes,
emergency services are working to clear roads of burning trees and cars
and restore power to the homes that are still standing.
Despite cooler temperatures, authorities have warned that firefighters
only have a short window of time to control the fires before the
temperatures again begin to rise at the end of the week.
Bushfire Death Toll May Hit 300; Police
By Ed Johnson
Feb. 12, 2009 (Bloomberg) -- The death toll
from Australia’s deadliest bushfires may
reach 300, officials said, as police probe
whether the blaze in the worst-hit town of
Marysville was lit deliberately.
At least 181 people are confirmed dead
in the wildfires sweeping through Victoria
state and the coroner is prepared for as
many as 300 bodies, Police Commissioner
Christine Nixon told the Australian
“We are going house by house, street by
street to search for bodies,” Nixon told
the ABC’s Lateline program yesterday.
Authorities believe “there are clearly
more people who have died in this fire.”
The bushfires destroyed four major
towns and dozens of hamlets, razing more
than 1,000 houses and leaving 4,200 people
homeless, according to the
Country Fire Authority. As many as 100
of the 500 residents of Marysville, a town
60 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of the
state capital, Melbourne, may have died
and authorities view that fire as
suspicious, Nixon said.
“The direction it came from, the pace
it came with, all of those things are a
part of the way we investigate a fire,”
Nixon told the ABC. “Part of the concerns
about Marysville is that it was just
Road blocks are set up around the town
to prevent anyone except authorities from
entering. Bodies are still being removed
from buildings and being identified,
John Brumby said yesterday.
Record High Temperatures
Two weeks of record high
temperatures, that reached 46.4
degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit)
in Melbourne, and hot northerly gales
across southeast Australia made conditions
over the weekend worse than in February
1983, when 75 people in Victoria and
neighboring South Australia died in what
are known as the Ash Wednesday fires.
Thirty blazes are still burning across
Victoria, with firefighters tackling three
major fronts, the CFA said. Milder weather
is allowing authorities to build so-called
containment lines -- bulldozing away scrub
and forest -- to slow the progress of the
Victorian police believe fires in the
Churchill area, southeast of Melbourne,
were deliberately lit and the arson squad
is investigating another 173 sites, CFA
Chief Fire Officer Russell Rees said
earlier this week.
Two people are “assisting police” in
their inquiries in relation to fires in
Yea and Seymour,
Victoria Police said in a statement
People found guilty of arson can expect
to be jailed for 25 years, the same
penalty that applies to a murder
conviction in Victoria, Brumby said this
Kevin Rudd’s office said the federal
government is planning a memorial service
for the bushfire victims. “The whole
nation stands with Victoria during this
time of national tragedy,” it said in a
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Police charged a man with deadly
arson in one of southern Australia's wildfires and put him in
protective custody as survivors expressed fury that anyone could set
such a blaze.
Authorities also doubled the property toll on Friday, saying
more than 1,800 homes were destroyed in the Feb. 7 blazes. Officials
say 181 people were killed and expect that total eventually to
Firefighters were still working Saturday to contain about a
dozen blazes, though weather conditions were favorable.
The suspect, whose identity was banned from publication by a
magistrate because of the risk of reprisal attacks against him or
his family, was formally charged with one count of arson causing
death, one of intentionally lighting a wildfire, and one of
possessing child pornography, Victoria police said.
Detectives arrested the man Friday and questioned him for
several hours in Morwell, 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of the
state capital Melbourne, police said. He was charged in a
magistrate's court, but did not appear in the courtroom, the
Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
He was ordered held in custody and to undergo psychiatric
evaluation, ABC said. He was taken to Melbourne, where another
hearing was set for Monday.
The national news agency Australian Associated Press reported
that some people outside the Morwell courthouse shouted abuse at a
van that they believed was carrying him away.
"We have a very emotive environment out there," said Victoria
Police Assistant Commissioner Dannye Moloney.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has described the
possibility of arson as "mass murder."
In interviews, residents who lost their homes expressed their
anger at anyone who might have ignited the fires.
"Words can't describe how I feel about them," Ruth Halyburton
told The Associated Press. "I'm a Christian, but I don't think too
kindly of people if they go light a match and destroy people's
property and lives. They don't have a brain in their head."
Gavin Wigginton, whose home was destroyed, said, "If this
person is not insane, then I think he should be in jail for a very
If found guilty, the man faces a maximum penalty of 25 years
in prison for the deadly arson charge, and a maximum of 15 years on
the second arson charge. Five years in prison is the maximum penalty
for possessing child porn.
The arson charges were connected to a fire near the town of
Churchill, about 125 miles southeast of Melbourne, that killed at
least 21 people. It was one of hundreds of fires that blackened
1,500 square miles of forests and farms in Victoria state.
Experts say arson can be hard to prove. Physical evidence
usually goes up in smoke or is taken away by arsonists, said Thomas
Fee, a former president of the U.S. International Association of
Even more difficult to prove is murder by arson. Wildfires
often join one another, making it tough to link a fire set by an
arsonist with the blaze that eventually kills people, said Damon
Muller, who has researched arsonists for the Australian Institute of
The scale of the disaster became clearer Friday, when the
state government said it had reached a more thorough tally of homes
destroyed and put that number at 1,831 — more than double its
earlier figure of 762. The number of people left homeless or who
fled their homes and have not returned also rose to 7,000, from
Police say they believe at least one other fire — the one that
all but destroyed the town of Marysville, about 60 miles north of
Melbourne — resulted from foul play.
Marysville is believed to have the biggest toll of any place —
up to 100 people killed in a population of 500.
A group of about 300 Marysville residents will be allowed to
return to the town Saturday for the first time — one week after the
fires. They will be loaded on buses and driven through Marysville,
but will not be allowed out of the vehicles.
Police say the town is considered a crime scene and they do
not want potential evidence to be disturbed.
"It'll be hard," Halyburton said. "It'll probably be the
hardest thing in my life."
She already knows her home is gone, and she and her husband, a
pastor, plan to help counsel other residents.
"Our main aim — and we're all behind each other — is to go
back and rebuild the town," said Bernie Culhane, 79.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 4:50 AM
Subject: YouTube compilation of the Victorian fires from an