ADELAIDE, Australia: Hundreds of firefighters battled a devastating “Armageddon-like” blaze for a second day in Australia Thursday that has left two dead and at least 13 in hospital, with grave fears the death toll will rise.
Cooler conditions and lighter winds aided crews as dawn broke with the bushfire not increasing in size, although South Australia state Premier Jay Weatherill said it would be days before it was fully brought under control.
“Even though a significant proportion of the fire perimeter is under control and the conditions were milder overnight, many fire fronts are still active within the fire grounds and they’ll continue to be battled for some days,” he said.
The premier late Wednesday said two people had died in the inferno around the town of Pinery, some 70 kilometers north of Adelaide. Unconfirmed reports said three people were missing.
“Obviously we have had the awful news of the tragic death of at least two people and we hold grave fears for many more,” Weatherill said.
“We can’t be entirely sure that we have identified every single person within the fire ground. That work will continue this morning as we carry out a more detailed search of the fire area.”
He added that 13 people were in hospital with five in either a critical or serious condition with significant burns. South Australia Health later tweeted that they had taken 15 people to hospital for burns, smoke inhalation, and minor injuries.
“We know that one of those people has burns to more than 80 percent of their body. Their condition is being closely monitored. But we do hold grave concerns for them,” said Weatherill.
The blaze incinerated at least 16 homes, as well as outbuildings, farm machinery and vehicles as it raged across a 40-kilometer front, driven by strong, swirling winds late Wednesday, he added.
Livestock was also lost with reports that thousands of chickens and pigs were killed.
Country Fire Service chief officer Greg Nettleton said it might still be early in the fire season but the land in South Australia was incredibly dry and only long, soaking rain would cut the fire risk.
“Until we get really substantial rainfall across the state, we’re in a dangerous fire situation for the summer,” he said.
Brendan Moten described how the sky darkened with ash as he fled his rural property and sought safety in the town of Kapunda as the fire raged around him and his family.
“A lot of people were gathered in the main street and there was smoke and ash and it was Armageddon for a while,” he told reporters.
“I feel lucky. Our place was under threat for a while… It was heading our way but it didn’t get there. It went around.”
The fire has hit rural communities in the area hard with around 90,000 hectares of land destroyed and crops ruined.
“There’s nothing left, it’s absolutely devastation,” grain farmer Peter March told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “This is my 59th harvest and I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
Bushfires are common in Australia’s hotter months with the latest fatalities taking to six the number killed since the annual season began early and in earnest last week when four died in Western Australia, including tourists from Britain, Norway and Germany.
That blaze, sparked by lightning around Esperance, 750 kilometers southeast of Perth, was finally brought under control late Wednesday after tearing through almost 130,000 hectares of bushland and farmland.
It destroyed two homes and ravaged grain crops.