Tasmania bushfires: Fears for missing

ANDREW DARBY, KIRSTY JOHNSTON AND AAP
Last updated 19:33 06/01/2013

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Tasmanian authorities have begun searching for bodies amid fears lives may have been lost in the bushfires.

More than 100 buildings have been destroyed by the fires, which continue to burn on the Tasman Peninsula and, while there have been no confirmed deaths, police say they have fears for a number of people.

The search for bodies has so far centred on destroyed properties in Dunalley, Boomer Bay and Marion Bay.
''I am fearful that someone may have died in this fire,'' Tilyard said. ''It is still far too early to confirm that that is not the case. But we have to brace ourselves for the fact we may locate one or more deceased.''

He said police teams were checking about eight properties an hour.

''A lot of premises need to be checked. Until we've had the opportunity to check every one of those locations we won't be in a position to confirm there have been no deaths.''

Chief fire officer Mike Brown said crews were having trouble accessing parts of the Tasman Peninsula and to bring the Forcett fire under control.

Brown said as the rest of the nation looked at lessons from the worst fire in Australia so far this summer, it was clear that much had been learnt from Victoria's 2009 Black Saturday fires, which killed 173.

Apart from pre-season preparation, he said there was much more awareness now of the dangers of bushfires.

''The other thing these days is the notification about going to community fire refuges, leaving and leaving early … and we've had a very good take-up on alerts that have gone out.

''People have responded very well. That, as much as really good firefighting effort, has eliminated or at least minimised the chance of injury to the community, and to firefighters.''

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard will visit the scene on Monday, after federal and state governments announced aid packages through Centrelink for people affected by the fires.

More than 1000 people have been evacuated from the Tasman Peninsula to Hobart via boat, with the final ferryload of 180 people departing the town of Nubeena early on Sunday.

Hundreds more have sought refuge with relatives and in evacuation centres across the region, including at the Port Arthur historic site.

Acting Premier Bryan Green has announced financial assistance, saying hundreds of Tasmanians have been affected.

Tasmanian fire authorities have defended their choice of aircraft to fight the bushfire, with much bigger helicopters idle on the mainland.

Brown said the big helicopters, heavily funded by the Commonwealth, still required a contribution from Tasmania.

''So we've got to have here what's available in terms of being able to support it as well,'' he said.

''The support we can provide to the medium helicopters gives us what we think is the best outcome.''

 

HEAT WAVE IN NEW ZEALAND

Blistering temperatures across the ditch have set the mercury boiling here, with 30-degree Celsius heat sweeping the country this weekend.

Hot air from the heat wave blanketing Australia has leaked out over the Tasman Sea and is expected to make its way up the North Island today.

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Yesterday delivered sweltering temperatures in the lower South Island, as Timaru, Dunedin and Invercargill reached 30-plus highs while Alexandra was expected to climb to 33C in the late afternoon.

"There's a stagnant pool of really warm weather sitting over Australia, and a little filament of that warm air extends to us," Victoria University climate scientist James Renwick said.

"That warm air is just running over the country."

Today Auckland reached a high of 26C, Wellington reached 24C and Christchurch got to 23C, the MetService website said.

Renwick said Australia's temperatures affected New Zealand only from time-to-time, if the wind was heading the right way.

Bushfires broke out in the scorching heat in Tasmania yesterday, destroying houses and leaving some towns cut off.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said it was possible Australia could reach a new national average highest temperature in coming days. The current national average high is 40.14C, set in 1972.

"We think this record could easily fall on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday based on the current forecasts," a bureau forecaster, Julie Evans, said.

"That's the average for the entire country and taking in parts that are even cooler."

Some parts of Australia were forecast to top 50C.

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