A record-setting heat wave and tinder dry conditions have sparked dozens of blazes across Australia. Hardest hit Tasmania has seen dozens of homes destroyed and with nearly 100 people missing, officials fear the possible loss of life.
Hardest hit by fire has been the island state of Tasmania where wildfires have moved with devastating effect. Over 100 homes have been lost, 70 of them in the community of Dunalley alone. In Dunalley it is estimated that one in three buildings were destroyed including the local school and police station.
Thousands have been forced to evacuate the fast moving bushfires. Some told harrowing tales of having to flee with only the clothes on their back to the surrounding ocean to escape the flames.
- Watch: Raw video captures the battle against the wildfires in Tasmania, Australia
Many evacuees were being housed in hotels and temporary shelters. As many as 700 were being sheltered at Port Arthur, a historic penal colony.
Acting Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard told Australia’s ABC that they have been unable to verify the safety of as many as 100 people.
While officials were hopeful many of the missing would be located, Tilyard said, "I am fearful that someone may have died in this fire... it is a very distinct possibility still and I think people need to brace themselves that that may occur.”
Prime Minister Julia Gillard promised the full support of the government saying, “We’ll keep working with the state government and local authorities to support communities.”
Gillard will tour the devastated community of Dunalley on Monday.
Fires are also burning in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
Recent days have seen Australia in the grips of temperatures that have soared with as much as 80 percent of the continent recording high temperatures over 104 °F (40 °C).
On Friday Hobart, Tasmania recorded a high of 107 °F (41.8 °C) eclipsing the previous highest temperature ever recorded in the city of 105.4 °F (40.8 °C).
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Australia's head of state, expressed her concern for those affected by the blazes in a letter sent to Tasmanian Governor Peter Underwood.
The queen wrote, "I send my sympathy to those people who have lost their homes or livelihoods in the fires, and offer my support and admiration for the firefighters, volunteers and emergency services officers who have been working tirelessly to contain the situation.''
Australia is known to experience devastating fire seasons. The worst occurred during what is now called the Black Saturday fires. The series of fires on February 7, 2009 claimed the lives of 173 people, injured 414 and destroyed over 2,000 homes.