Hopes for no fatalities rise in bushfire search

08:39, Jan 09 2013
Tasmaniabush fire
A fire at Tasmania's Forcett, 30km from Hobart, sends smoke over Park Beach.
Tasmaniabush fire
Fire burning near Dodges Ferry, a small town in south eastern Tasmania.
Tasmaniabush fire
The settlement of Dunalley, about 40 kilometres east of Hobart, was one of the worst hit by the Tasmanian bush fires.
Tasmaniabush fire
Police Rescue Helicopter crewman Matthew Drumm looks out at the destruction.
Australia heatwave 2013
Exercise groups train at sunrise to beat the heat on Sydney's Bronte Beach as temperatures are expected to reach record highs.
Australia heatwave 2013
Water bombing at Oura, near Wagga Wagga. New South Wales faces its worst fire risk with temperatures predicted to hit the mid to high 40s.
Australia heatwave 2013
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons (C) at the State Operation Centre.
Australian heat
Kutchani, a female lion, eats a frozen milk iceblock at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.
Australian heatwave
Smoke rises from the Yarrabin bushfire burning out of control near Cooma, south of Canberra.
Australia heatwave
A bush fire burning near Cooma, south of Canberra.
Singed clothes hang from a clothesline in a backyard affected by a bushfire at Boomer Bay, about 40 kilometres east of Hobart.
Australia heatwave
Fire crossing Princes Highway at Deans Gap fire in Shoalhaven, southern NSW.
Australia heatwave
A deserted petrol station, close to a fire south west of Wandandian, NSW.
Australia heatwave
NSW Rural Fire Service crews tackle a deliberately lit bushfire near Bidwill in Sydney's west.
Australia heatwave
Carngham Station, in Victoria, was destroyed in the state's bushfires.
Australia heatwave
A fireman working on flames near Ballarat, Victoria.
Australia heatwave
NSW Rural Fire Service crews water-bombing fires at Bungendore.
Australia heatwave
'Mopping-up" spot fires at Sandhills in Bungendore, Australia.
Australia fires
An aerial photo of the fire threatening the Siding Springs Observatory.
Australia fires
The fire moves in on the observatory in Siding Springs, in rural NSW.
Australia fires
The Siding Spring Observatory the morning after the fire swept through.
Australia fires
Several buildings at the Siding Spring Observatory were damaged.
Australia bushfires
A fire danger sign on the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne gives a grim warning to locals.
NSW fire at Coonabarabran
Fire burns alongside the Newell Highway near Coonabarabran, about 350km northwest of Sydney.
Australia bush fires
A children's playground destroyed by the massive bushfire in rural New South Wales.
Australia bush fires
Robina and Felicity Otrupcek standing in front of Robina's home that was water-bombed and remained unscathed as fire burnt through the New South Wales property.
Australia bush fires
The changed landscape of Baradine Road at Coonabarabran, which was hit by one of New South Wales' worst bushfires in history.
victoria bush fires
Trying to keep cool at the Big Day Out in Sydney.
victoria bush fires
Crowds at Wanda Beach as temperatures begin to fall in Sydney.
victoria bush fires
Swimmers and sun bathers at Victoria Park Pool, in Sydney's Glebe.
victoria bush fires
Sydneysiders cool off in Botany Bay near Yarra Bay.
victoria bush fires
Frantic efforts to damp down properties as the fire approaches.
victoria bush fires
Firefighers battling a bushfire in Aberdare, New South Wales.
A fire burns in Ku-Ring-Gai National Park, north of Sydney.

Confidence is rising that the worst bushfires in Tasmania in nearly half a century could be fatality free.

Police had held grave fears for up to 100 people but now say  they have no concerns for any specific missing person.

Acting Commissioner Scott Tilyard said police were still to account for everyone but hopes were rising after searches of 850  sites.

''We have no missing persons reports in circumstances where we  hold grave fears for the safety of any individual, which is a very  positive position to be in,'' he told reporters on Wednesday.

''As time goes by that confidence gains but we're still yet to  complete our searching process.

''Until such time as we have then we really can't confirm that no  one has passed away.

''The indications up until now are good and we hope that that  continues.''

Tasmania is widely considered to have suffered its worst fires  since 1967, when 62 lives and 2000 properties were lost.

The blazes which began last Thursday have destroyed 130  properties and burnt 110,000 hectares.

''We certainly were expecting that we might find deceased people  given the ferocity of the fire, particularly as it moved through  the peninsula last Friday,'' Mr Tilyard said.

''So the outcome has been better than what we anticipated.''

There have also been few injuries, with only minor burns,  scratches, bruises and smoke inhalation reported, much of it among  firefighters.

Cool conditions in Tasmania had allowed authorities to downgrade  most of the state's 30 bushfires by Wednesday evening.

Watch and act warnings are in place for the Tasman Peninsula,  Montumana in the northwest and Curries River in the state's north  with winds still causing problems.

Warmer temperatures and northwesterly winds on Thursday and  Friday could increase the danger, Tasmania Fire Service's Deputy  Chief Officer Gavin Freeman said.

''Just because it's cooler conditions doesn't mean it's safe,'' he said.

A group of 13 New Zealand volunteer firefighters headed for the Tasmanian capital Hobart to relieve exhausted locals.

Meanwhile, frustrated townsfolk from bushfire-ravaged Dunalley in southeast Tasmania could return to their properties as soon as Friday.

Tasmania police plan to start allowing people to return to the  state's worst-hit town in stages.

''If all goes to plan on Friday that will give us a clearer idea  of how quickly we can expedite the return of people to other  areas,'' Mr Tilyard said.

Up to 90 homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged in and  around the Tasman Peninsula fishing village.

Health and safety concerns have meant residents who fled the  area have not been allowed back and the Arthur Highway to the  peninsula has stayed closed.

Mr Tilyard said some residents had become frustrated.

''The vast majority of people ... are quite understanding when  it's explained to them why they can't be allowed through,'' he said.

''There will always be one or two people whose worry and  frustration does tip over into a little bit of anger.''

A police-escorted bus convoy was taking evacuees back to the  Tasman Peninsula to collect abandoned cars on Wednesday evening.

Thousands of visitors to the peninsula fled a massive blaze by  boat on the weekend, leaving hundreds of private and hire vehicles  behind.

And the state government was warning Tasmanians to be wary of  people seeking to profiteer from the fires.

Minister for Consumer Protection Nick McKim says people should  be careful of businesses overcharging or of fraudulently collecting  donations.