Australia must 'prepare for more scorchers'

Last updated 10:41 08/01/2013

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has toured parts of Tasmania destroyed by bushfires. Julie Noce reports.

Tasmaniabush fire
Reuters Zoom
The settlement of Dunalley, about 40 kilometres east of Hobart, was one of the worst hit by the Tasmanian bush fires.
Julai Gillard
GRIM SIGHT: Julia Gillard tours the ruins of the Dunalley Primary School in Tasmania.

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Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard has underscored the dangers facing Australia this summer from climate change as she saw Tasmanian bushfire ruins, and warned people to expect more.

Gillard said as New South Wales faced potentially catastrophic conditions today, the crisis was not over in Tasmania.

While the south-east fires that devastated Dunalley on the island state were easing, Tasmania faced a new emergency warning in north-west dairy country near Mawbanna, where a fast-running fire threatened the community.

Gillard said extreme bushfires were part of life in a hot and dry country.

''And while you would not put any one event down to climate change ... we do know that over time as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events,'' she said.

Walking through the remains of the Dunalley primary school, she said people in NSW needed to be prepared for scorching temperatures, with some fires already burning.

''Everyone can remember what their school was like, how they saw their kids grow. This is a devastating scene,'' she said of the twisted roofing iron and scorched earth.

''But the worst thing is if human lives are lost.''

KIWI HELP

Tasmanian fire authorities have called for rural fire fighting support from New Zealand with two crews expected to head across the Tasman tomorrow.

National rural fire officer Murray Dudfield said he received a call for assistance late last night.

''The Tasmanian fire agencies together with the Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Tasmanian Forestry Commission have requested that we provide two remote fire fighter crews which we will be agreeing too,'' Dudfield said.

A forestry crew out of Nelson and a Northland-based Department of Conservation crew were expected to go.

The call for support, based on a trans-Tasman agreement, could see more crews heading to Australia as the fire-risk intensifies in New South Wales.

''We will certainly be monitoring this situation over the next couple of days, but certainly if the need is there, we would respond with futher support,'' Dudfield said.

'AWFUL SCENE'

Gillard's escorted convoy drove into Dunalley past an inspection team, clad in white protective clothing, sifting slowly through the wreckage of a house.

After searching 245 properties in and around Dunalley, police still have not uncovered any fatalities.

The toll of property losses in Tasmania has reached about 100 buildings, most of them homes or holiday cottages.

''It's an awful scene,'' Gillard said. ''The devastation and the randomness of it. There's so much cruelty, and luck and fate.''

She met one survivor, grandfather Bob Brakey, who left his house south of Dunalley with his wife when the fire came through last Friday, and he realised his water supply was inadequate for fighting it.

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Brakey saw his home of 25 years burn, but was philosophical. ''I'm probably one of the lucky ones. My insurance company has worked pretty well for me. I'm still disappointed to lose everything, though.''

Gillard also ran into grumpy locals, four days after the fire cost many of them everything.

"When are we going to get our generator?" shouted Lyol Kravitz, who lost his home at nearby Boomer Bay, from the verandah of the Dunalley pub. Kravitz said more should be done to clean up the town before hazardous materials swirled around further. ''Out of 10 houses that went, eight of them were full of asbestos,'' he said.

- The Age

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