Bushfires ravage Victoria, up to 60 people dead, towns destroyed

Bushfires ravaged Victoria, Australia overnight, destroying entire towns and killing up to 60 people.

The bushfires started Saturday local time as the state experience its hottest ever day. The temperature in Melbourne hit 46.4 C (116F) and 47.9c (118F) in Avalon, a town located between Melbourne and Victoria’s second largest city Geelong.

Bushfires that had started across the state in the heat intensified as a cool change came through last afternoon, backed by winds gusting up to 100 km/h.

The official death toll stands at 24, but is expected to increase as authorities gain access to devastated areas. One source claims the toll could be as high as 60, confirmed by Assistant Police Commissioner Kieran Walshe, who told Sky News that “that the number will go quite a bit higher than 40.”

Towns devastated

Entire towns have been wiped off the face of the earth.

Marysville, a popular village in the Yarra Ranges near the popular skiing resort of Lake Mountain, 90 minutes outside of Melbourne was destroyed by the fire, with reports that there was only one building left standing. The town has a population of 519 people, but significantly higher during peak holiday seasons. Locals were reported to have evacuated to the town oval, and were safe.

Kinglake, about 1 hour out of Melbourne was destroyed in what witnesses described as a “holocaust” of fire. Dozens of cars were burnt out on the outskirts of the town as residents tried to flee, with at least 3 killed, but possibly many more.

Reports on Twitter indicate that “hundreds” of houses have been lost in and around Bendigo.

Other locations reported multiple losses of house around Melbourne and in the east of the state.

Loss of life

Many killed in the fires were caught trying to flee as fires approached, a move considered dangerous by experts. A source explained that the official recommendation in fire situations is you leave early, or you’re better off staying with your house and preparing for the worst. Multiple reports indicate crash cars in fire ravaged areas, making it difficult to assess loss of life.

Fires easing

As of Sunday midday local time, the risk posed by the fires is easing, with cooler weather and rain assisting fire fighters battling blazes on several fronts, although a number of fires remain uncontained and continue to threaten homes.

More when we have it

(img: ABC News)

Update: Google Maps mashup of fire locations

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