Australia bushfire: Two killed as blaze rages unabated

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Media captionThe bushfire has been declared a natural disaster

At least two people have been killed and another is missing as bushfires continue to burn out of control in western Australia, officials say.

Police say the bodies of two men in their 70s have been discovered in the debris of burnt-out houses in the town of Yarloop, south of Perth.

An emergency bushfire warning remains in place for Yarloop.

Emergency services have warned that the towns of Harvey, Cookernup and Wokalup are also facing a big threat.

West Australia Premier Colin Barnett has declared the main area of the fire to be the scene of a natural disaster and eligible for emergency funds.

Residents and holiday-makers in the area - a major beef and dairy farming area - have been evacuated.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Fire-bombing helicopters are being deployed to fight the blaze near the town of Waroona
Image caption This handout photo from fire fighters shows the Waroona fire burning near Yarloop

Dairy farmers have been forced to jettison thousands of litres of milk because road closures have prevented tankers from reaching farms already badly hit by power cuts.

The fire, which may have been ignited by a lightning strike on Wednesday, is now estimated to have destroyed some 67,000 hectares (166,000 acres) of land.

Firefighters from New South Wales have now been deployed to relieve exhausted local crews, the Reuters news agency reported.

Another large fire is also reported to be burning near the town of Esperance, on the southern coast of West Australia.

But so far Yarloop has been worst hit, with at least 130 properties destroyed. But State Premier Colin Barnett has said it will be rebuilt.

Gusts of up to 60km/h (37mph) had fanned the blaze, known as the Waroona fire, to heights of 50m (150ft).

The strong winds have now eased, but the fire remains unpredictable.

Firefighter's account of Australia Waroona fire

How events unfolded

Fighting Australia's bushfire threat

In pictures: Bushfire devastates swathes of Western Australia

"We're seeing conditions that we've not seen before on this type of fire, particularly when it went through Yarloop," Western Australia Fire Commissioner Wayne Gregson said.

It remains unclear how many of the town's more than 500 residents will be able to return.

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Image caption Image from Twitter user Emma McIntosh shows the historic Yarloop Workshops and Steam Museum burning

Four firefighters were injured battling the blaze in Yarloop and one fire truck was destroyed.

The loss of property in Yarloop is described as "significant" with the pub, bowling club and historic timber workshops destroyed.

The Western Australia bushfire comes less than a month after southern Victoria was struck by similar blazes.

More than 100 homes were destroyed by an outbreak on Christmas Day.

Australia's severe bushfires

Image caption The fire is now threatening beef and dairy producing towns in the Waroona area, emergency workers say

What causes the fires?

Australia is particularly prone to bushfires as much of the country has both a hot, dry climate, and plenty of vegetation to burn. All it then takes to start a fire is ignition, and there can be as many as a thousand lightening strikes in a storm.

Is there any way to stop them happening?

Their impact can be reduced by preparation: authorities can clear vulnerable land in advance and build more fire-resistant settlements; individuals can prepare their own defences and escape plans.

Once they start, can they be put out?

Less fast-moving fires can be fought by "direct attack" - ground troops with hoses - but more dangerous situations have to be fought with strategic techniques like "back-burning" land ahead of an advancing fire, to starve it of fuel when it arrives.

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