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High temperatures feed Australia bushfires

January 7, 1998
Web posted at: 12:29 p.m. EST (1729 GMT)
From Correspondent Michael Holmes

PERTH, Australia (CNN) -- It's summer in Australia, and that means bushfire season.

This almost annual event has been particularly destructive this year, the latest casualty being the west coast capital of Perth.

Television crews at Perth's largest television station didn't have far to go to cover the growing blaze. Flames literally licked at their doorstep, and firefighters feared the station's helicopter pad and its store of aviation gas would spark an explosion. Fortunately, the firefighters won the battle and kept the station safe.

As the fires continued to blaze around the city, the biggest enemy for the firefighters was the intense heat. Temperatures were hovering around 40 degrees Celsius, or about 110 degrees Fahrenheit, setting the stage for plenty of tinder-dry buildings and bushland to spark.

Perth's blaze didn't start in the bushland, but from a painter's van that caught fire in the extreme temperatures.

"Within seconds, the inside of the roof started to catch light," said the van's owner Stephen Langridge. "It was so quick, you know, a bit frightening."

Two nearby houses were quickly swallowed up by the spreading blaze. The occupants escaped uninjured.

"My mom shouted out to me and I was in the kitchen and I came to get her and the flames were behind me so I just ran out, jumped out the window," said resident Tylene Munmurrie.

The heat and parched land were keeping firefighters stretched thin as blazes broke out across the city and into the neighboring bushland.

Meanwhile, spot fires on the eastern edge of a massive bushfire in Victoria have hampered the fight against the blaze burning in the Alpine National Park. Overnight, firefighters worked a total of 86 bushfires throughout the state.

The heat wave is set to continue across the country for days ahead.


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