Australian fires 'like an atom bomb'

03:38, Jan 14 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.
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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.
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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.
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Frantic efforts to damp down properties as the fire approaches.
victoria bush fires
Firefighers battling a bushfire in Aberdare, New South Wales.
Ku-Ring-Gai
A fire burns in Ku-Ring-Gai National Park, north of Sydney.

A "perfect storm" of a fire in northern NSW has destroyed 28 homes, with firefighters expecting that number to rise.

The fire has burned through 40,000 hectares near the Warrumbungle National Park.

After Sunday's destructive rampage it remained uncontained on Monday, with a 100km front, although no further properties were immediately under threat.

But Rural Fire Service (RFS) Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers told reporters that the number of homes destroyed was expected to go up as crews inspected burnt-through areas.

He said 40 farm sheds had also been lost along with many livestock, much fencing and farm machinery.

"There was just absolutely no stopping that fire," Mr Rogers said.

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He said the wind shifted to the south at the worst possible time, creating "perfect storm" conditions for a fire that burnt "with such a ferocity we haven't seen in years".

Mr Rogers said evacuations were absolutely necessary and police had enforced that.

A number of buildings, including the lodge at the Siding Spring Observatory in the national park, were damaged in the bushfire that firefighters say was fanned by "atrocious' weather conditions.

But Andrew Hopkins, acting director of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, said the Anglo-Australian Telescope was believed to have survived the blaze.

"What we understand at this point in time is that there has been some damage to some of the structures on the top of the mountain but it looks as though all of the main telescope facilities are okay," Hopkins said.

"Of course we're incredibly grateful to the efforts of the Rural Fire Service. The significance of the site is absolutely huge. The Siding Spring Observatory site is the premiere astronomical observatory facility in Australia for optical and infrared observing."

Eighteen staff members were evacuated from the observatory, which is owned by the Australian National University.

About 100 residents were evacuated last night along a four-kilometre fire front, with people seeking refuge in Coonabarabran as huge columns of smoke filled the sky.

"It looked like an atom bomb the way it went up," said Susan Armstrong, who owns a property to the west of the fire. Her husband, Brian, had been fighting the blaze, which started on Saturday, but his crew had to pull back.

"They got sent home. It was far too dangerous," Armstrong said. "He said the spot fires and how quickly it all moved was quite scary."

FIRE CREW DEATH

In Tasmania, a 60-year-old firefighter from Victoria was found dead near a hamlet on the Tasman Peninsula where he was conducting a backburn.

Police said the man was part of a Victorian contingent assisting the Tasmania Fire Service.

He was preparing for backburning operations at Waterfall Bluff, which is about two to three kilometres from the active fire edge.

Workers were sent to the area after the man failed to make a scheduled call-in.

The latest blast of heat from Australia's hot heart sent the mercury soaring over the weekend in parts of western NSW and in Queensland. Walgett touched 48.5 degrees and nearby Bourke 48. Tibooburra Post Office's 47.9 degrees was the highest in 103 years of records.

''Once we get to Tuesday to Thursday of [this] week, the interior could be just as hot as today,'' Brett Dutschke, senior meteorologist at Weatherzone, said.

- Sydney Morning Herald and AAP