Australia residents return after Christmas Day bushfire

Residents of the evacuated towns of Wye River and Separation Creek at a relief centre, south of Melbourne. Photo: 26 December 2015 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Many residents of Wye River and Separation Creek had to spent Christmas night in shelters

Residents of areas hit by bushfire in Australia's Victoria state have begun returning home after the evacuation orders were lifted, officials say.

Locals of Wye River and Separation Creek - the worst-affected towns - were bussed in to survey their properties.

The Christmas Day bushfire destroyed 116 homes, with nearly one in three houses in Wye River now unliveable.

A change to cooler weather and rain has greatly reduced the threat, but some emergency warnings remain in place.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said the damage was "significant". No injuries have been reported.

Work was now under way to assess damage to roads, power and water lines and to the environment, he said.

"The other issue today of course is smoke and what impact that will have in terms of those who've got underlying conditions," Mr Andrews said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The fast-moving bushfire earlier forced the evacuation of 1,600 residents of Lorne

Hundreds of firefighters have been battling the blaze in the two towns as well as Lorne - popular holiday spots along the famous Great Ocean Road.

On Friday, some 1,600 residents and tourists were evacuated from Lorne amid fears that a wind change would push the fire towards the town, but were allowed to return on Saturday.

However, many of those forced to leave their homes had to spend Christmas night in hastily-arranged shelters.

The blaze began with a lightning strike on 19 December and has been fanned by strong winds and intense heat in recent days, burning across 2,200 hectares (5,437 acres) so far.

Victoria is one of the most fire-prone regions in the world.

Many bushfires are started by lightning strikes, while others are sparked accidentally by campers or discarded cigarettes.

Some are the work of arsonists.

In 2009, more than 170 people died in Victoria during Australia's worst ever bushfire disaster.

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