Wildfires destroy homes, wreak havoc in southern Australia

Firefighters battled to contain a wildfire Wednesday that razed several homes in southern Australia amid soaring temperatures and warnings that the worst was yet to come.

Two fires in southern Victoria state late Tuesday destroyed one house west of the state capital, Melbourne, and three in the state's northeast, where a massive blaze has blackened more than 27,000 hectares (66,717 acres) over the past two days, according to the Victoria Country Fire Authority.

Authorities earlier reported that eight houses had burned down, but revised that figure after firefighters were able to enter the charred areas and inspect the damage.

Meanwhile, firefighters were struggling to contain the northeast blaze which knocked out a main electricity circuit on Tuesday, plunging some 200,000 homes and businesses into darkness and affecting hundreds of traffic signals and suburban train services. Several people were caught in elevators when power went out in some buildings and had to be rescued.

The power was restored early Wednesday, but Victoria's Premier Steve Bracks urged residents to conserve electricity as temperatures were set to exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) this week.

"This is the worst bush fire conditions we have ever had in Victoria's history because it is going to go on and it is going to get worse," Bracks told reporters Wednesday. "We have never encountered this in Victoria before."

Officials also evacuated tourists and residents of a resort community in the Snowy Mountains of neighboring New South Wales state on Wednesday, where firefighters and six water-bombing aircraft were struggling to contain a blaze, the Rural Fire Service said, reports AP.

Over 10,000 square kilometers (3,861 square miles) of Victorian forest and ranch land has been destroyed since the start of the southern hemisphere summer, when soaring temperatures and gusty winds often combine to spur the sometimes deadly blazes.

Nine people died in fires on South Australia state's Eyre Peninsula in January 2005. Eight of them died in their cars as they tried to flee the approaching blaze. In January 2003, more than 500 houses were destroyed and four people killed when a huge fire tore through the national capital of Canberra.

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