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Power lines blamed for Australia bushfires

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Bushfires ravage Australia
  • Officials say downed power lines likely cause of Western Australia bushfires
  • More than 38 square miles affected by blaze
  • Firefighters say value of damage likely to be in the millions of dollars
  • Australia
  • Fires
  • Perth

(CNN) -- Officials in Western Australia declared a natural disaster Wednesday after bushfires roared across the state, destroying more than 30 homes.

The most-damaging outbreak to property was around Toodyay -- about 75 kilometers (46 miles) northeast of the capital, Perth -- where 2,900 hectares (11 square miles) were scorched and 37 homes lost.

Officials think downed power lines might have sparked the Toodyay blaze.

"I can say that the fire has started in the vicinity of power infrastructure," Fire and Emergency Services Authority spokesman Craig Hynes told CNN affiliate ABC.

Colin Barnett, premier of Western Australia, said: "This is a sad and tragic event for many families. The state government is doing what it can to fight the fire and help people who have lost property. There are hundreds of firefighters, volunteer firefighters, police and staff of the shire of Toodyay who are doing an excellent job of protecting the community and facing harsh and difficult conditions."

Fire authorities had issued a handful of warnings across the state by Wednesday afternoon, from Badgingarra, along the coast, to Coolgardie, Wiluna and Laverton, in the heart of Western Australia. The fire danger was listed as potentially catastrophic in some areas.

"I just couldn't breathe and, you know, your eyes were stinging and the black smoke just came in and the flames were so high. ... It was very frightening," Toodyay resident Lesley Hug told ABC.

More than 10,000 hectares (38 square miles) of bush had gone up in flames around Badgingarra, according to fire officials. They said no homes had been lost in Badgingarra, but damage was estimated to be in the millions of dollars.

"Many property owners are away, so final figures are difficult to confirm at this stage," they said.