Australian firefighters keep blazes under control
Friday, February 27th 2009, 12:08 pm
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Firefighters in southeastern Australia managed Friday to keep four major blazes under control despite hot temperatures and erratic winds.
Heat, winds and lightning strikes were forecast and residents were warned to have fire plans in place. Schools and parks were closed and people were advised not to travel into rural areas in an effort to prevent a disaster like the one that claimed more than 200 lives on Feb. 7.
None of the four major ongoing fires breached control lines Friday, while several small fires which broke out during the day were quickly controlled.
"It just goes to show all the hard work that people put in," said Department of Sustainability and Environment spokesman Kevin Monk.
"We knew today would be hot and windy and people worked their butts off to put in control lines and do backburning. I think that has really paid off," he said.
But officials nervously watched forecasts of gusty winds late Friday night which could propel flames or embers toward towns or past containment lines.
Monk said as cooler temperatures moved across the state there was a chance lightning strikes would spark more fires.
"It is still very dry, it is very windy and we have had a few lightning strikes," he said.
The official death toll from the Feb. 7 blazes remains at 210, though officials have said it could climb slightly as they search for the remains of people still listed as missing. The fires destroyed 2,029 houses, leaving 7,500 people homeless.