Wildfires burning fast, trapping many in northern Australia

Nov. 8 (UPI) — More than a dozen wildfires were raging out of control in northern Australia early Saturday morning, forcing widespread evacuations, property destruction and injuries.

Some residents could be trapped in their neighborhoods because nearby roads are blocked by fires. At least two houses have been destroyed and several others were “under threat,” fire officials said. A helicopter helped firefighters turn the tide in at least one of the fires.

Nearly 1,200 firefighters and 70 aircraft have been deployed.

“We can certainly see some of the aerial footage and the vision coming through which is identifying some widespread property damage and destruction right across multiple firegrounds,” New South Wales RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

He said the country has never had this many fires at an emergency level.

In addition to the dozen fires that are raging an “emergency level,” fire officials said there are more than 50 fires across New South Wales that are burning out of control.

For those trapped in their homes, Fitzsimmons said they need to shelter in place.

“It’s simply too dangerous and too late to leave,” Fitzsimmons said.

At least one school was destroyed. Residents in of Port Macquarie were evacuated, including Maria Doherty, who described the fire as a “skyscraper of flames” coming toward her house.

Firefighters were able to save the 10 houses on the cul de sac and even brought Doherty’s laundry inside.

“Within 30 minutes this great wall of fire just came from the back of our cul da sac and within seconds the trees were catching fire, and the sky was orange and yellow. It was like Armageddon.”

The fire situation was worse Friday when a record 17 fires were going at the same time.

“The temperature has dropped and the humidity has increased, which is good for us,” Fire and Rescue NSW acting Superintendent Nick Andronicos said.

The Pacific Highway is closed in both directions between Taree and Bulahdelah. It’s also shut down between Oxley Highway and Hastings River Drive.

Midcoast Council Mayor David West said he has “never felt a sense of anguish that I do now, the fear for my community.” He called it “unprecedented.”

“I’m looking out my office window and all I see is what I’m assuming people in London saw during the Second World War — it’s a horrible, horrible sight,” West told ABC Australia.

He praised the firefighters, many of whom came from other parts of the state to help.

“These guys and ladies are doing this without any fear,” West said. “They’re laying their lives on the line for us — it’s unbelievable.”

There’s growing concern that the fires could combine if conditions worsen again. The energy produced by the fires is influencing other fires, causing them to spread faster.

“It’s going to be very hot and very dry and very windy,” RFS spokesman Greg Allan said. “We are likely to see conditions subside a little over the weekend, but things to pick up again early next week.”