Wildfire across southern Australia: 2 dead, 1 injured

About 9,000 firefighters on Monday battled to contain more than two dozen fires burning out of control in southern Australia as farmers prepared to cull thousands of livestock injured in the flames, fire officials said. Police investigated two bodies found in a charred vehicle to determine whether the deaths were linked to the wildfires, and a helicopter pilot helping the firefighters was injured when his aircraft caught fire and he was forced into a crash-landing, police and media reports said.

"We are trying to ascertain whether the two people were victims of a car accident or died as a result of the fires in that area," police spokeswoman Carla Coslovich said. Hundreds of firefighters were assessing damage to scorched areas near the Grampians mountains, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) west of Melbourne, where about 100,000 hectares of land were destroyed, according to Graham Fountain, deputy chief of the Victoria Country Fire Authority.

A helicopter pilot who was assisting with firefighting efforts in eastern Victoria was injured after he made a crash landing when his aircraft caught fire, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. He was taken to hospital with minor injuries. Devastated farmers began the grim task Monday of scouring their blackened paddocks for dead and injured livestock.

Sheep and cattle losses from the fires were expected to reach the tens of thousands. Steven Cox, who works at a general store near the Grampians, said several farmers had come to his store stocking up on ammunition before heading out to their fields to cull injured livestock.

"They're coming in here nearly in tears, it's terrible out there, unbelievable. Everything's black," Cox said. Rancher Jandy Slattery said she expected around 80 percent of her farm's 12,500 sheep to be lost in the fires

"The fire came through that quickly, it wasn't here and then it was," Slattery said. "We have to go through now and look at (the stock) to see what can be saved and what can't, but I imagine the losses will be quite severe," she said.

Around 9,000 firefighters have responded to 110 separate incidents since the first flares were reported Thursday, the Country Fire Authority said. So far, the fires have caused an estimated 130,000 Australian dollars (US$97,994; Ђ81,201).

In the town of Anakie, 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Melbourne, 20 buildings were damaged or destroyed, including three homes, the Country Fire Authority said. Fires also were burning in South Australia, Western Australia and the southern island state of Tasmania, reports the AP. N.U.

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