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Police search for unaccounted-for in fires

Jan. 7, 2013 at 7:07 AM   |   Comments

DUNALLY, Australia, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Police searched residences and buildings for people still unaccounted-for as bushfires move through portions of Tasmania in Australia, officials said Monday.

Two bushfires remained out of control in southeast Tasmania, fed by high heat and strong winds, CNN reported.

After searching properties in Dunally and north, authorities haven't found any fire victims, the Tasmanian police said in a statement. The wildfires burned through tens of thousands of hectares on the island off Australia's southern coast, destroying more than 100 buildings and forced about 3,000 people across the island state to seek shelter or evacuate.

Helicopter surveillance is assisting in assessing the damage of more remote areas.

The Tasmania Fire Service issued "watch and alert" advisories for two fires that already burned 29,000 hectares combined.

"Although there has been a decrease in weather conditions and fire activity overnight and this morning, people need to remain vigilant, as fire and weather conditions can change rapidly," the service said for the larger of the two blazes, known as the Forcett Fire.

In its statement, Tasmania police urged people to register with the National Registration and Inquiry Service so police could cross-reference information details to get an accurate picture of who has been accounted for.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited the fire-stricken area Monday, The Sydney Daily Telegraph said.

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

"To all of those people, I do want to say we're thinking of you in these moments of grief and despair, and we will be working with you in the days to come," she said.

Police said getting fuel supplies to the Tasman Peninsula was being organized, and essential emergency equipment and resources were delivered to the area Sunday night.

Police said nothing indicated any of the fires was set intentionally. While investigations haven't been finalized in the Forcett fire, preliminary indications are that it was accidental, officials said.

Police said they believe Lake Repulse fire was started by an abandoned campfire, while the Bicheno fire was caused by a lightning strike.

The torrid conditions could move across Sydney, the Telegraph reported. Temperatures in the city were forecast to reach 109 degrees F Tuesday.

Barray O'Farrell, premier of New South Wales, Monday urged people to prepare for extremely dangerous conditions.

"Do what emergency services tell you," O'Farrell said. "Rethink your need to be in the bush, have a bush fire plan, be prepared but most importantly make sure you are well away from harm's way."

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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