Australia

Bushfires in Victoria and South Australia threaten homes

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Media captionOne resident described the sound of the bushfires like the "roar of a jet engine"

Firefighters are battling out-of-control bushfires threatening homes in South Australia and Victoria.

Police have declared a major emergency and told residents that their lives are at risk.

South Australia's fire chief said the blazes in the Adelaide Hills, northeast of Adelaide city, were the worst since the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983.

Those fires left 75 people dead and caused devastation across parts of Victoria and South Australia.

"At the moment, we have a fire which is extremely dangerous and it is burning under extremely adverse conditions," South Australia fire chief Greg Nettleton was quoted as saying.

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Media captionTemperatures soar in south-east Australia

"Right at this moment, residents in the Adelaide Hills are being confronted by a fire which hasn't been seen in the hills since the 1983 bushfires of Ash Wednesday," Mr Nettleton said.

Crews have also been fighting bushfires in Victoria but all warnings have now been downgraded as a cold front moves into the area.

"Hopefully tomorrow and the next few days the fire danger will ease as this cold front passes through Victoria," a spokesman from the area's fire authority told ABC news.

'Incredibly scary'

So far about five homes have been confirmed destroyed but authorities said that dozens more were feared lost.

South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill urged residents in the areas at risk to leave immediately or prepare to stay and defend their homes.

"If you have decided to stay the fire could become incredibly scary and it could make you change your mind and leave.

"It could be a catastrophic decision to leave late."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Dozens of dogs and cats were killed after fire destroyed a kennel and cattery in the Adelaide Hills
Image copyright AFP
Image copyright EPA
Image caption High temperatures and strong winds have hampered firefighters' attempts to battle the blazes
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Residents were told to leave immediately

So far these are the biggest bushfires of the Australian summer, reports the BBC's Jon Donnison in Sydney.

Australia faces such fires every year but environmentalists say global warning is making their occurrence more frequent.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology says the country experienced its hottest year on record in 2013.

The 1983 disaster killed more than 70 people in South Australia and Victoria and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.

In 2009, the devastating "Black Saturday" wildfires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria.

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