Australia wildfires: Resident dies defending home, thousands evacuated

Thousands of Australians were forced
to evacuate their homes on Thursday
by wind whipped wildfires that have
already destroyed at least 100
properties and claimed the life of one
Fueled by unseasonably high
temperatures and strong gusts, 100
fires were burning in New South Wales
near the country’s biggest city Sydney,
according to the eastern Australian
state’s Rural Fire Service (RFS), who
briefed the country’s new Prime
Minister Tony Abbott about the crisis,
late Thursday.
PM Tony Abbott gets a briefing on
Blue Mtns fires from #NSWRFS Commissioner #nswfires
1:04 AM - 18 Oct 2013
NSWRFS Follow 6 RETWEETS 2 FAVORITES The fires have already claimed the life of Walter Linder who died from a heart attack while trying to defend his home from a fire in Lake Munmorah, a coastal community a short drive north of Sydney. The 63-year-old was found slumped over a bathtub in the backyard of his property, where he was trying to fight a fire with buckets of water, according to Australia’s 9 News channel. “It was just horrible,” his neighbor Martin Campbell told the station . Others returned to their communities to find their homes and neighborhoods destroyed by the flames. “It looks like a holocaust,” Damon White, 45, told the Sydney Morning Herald early Friday, as he surveyed the burned out homes in Winmalee, a small town around 60 miles west of Sydney. "On one side there's a line of 10 houses in a row and they're all gone,” he added, “It's not like the fire in that area picked one or two houses ... it took them all.” In Sydney, callers to radio stations on Thursday reported ash and burnt leaves falling on some of the city's beaches, including the world famous Bondi, according to the Associated Press. A thick pall of smoke from the fires in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney moved across the city over some of its best-known landmarks, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, forcing thousands of people to spend Thursday night in evacuation centers on the western outskirts of the city, as well as to the north and the south. The Australian Red Cross was helping to facilitate them. Red Cross is in #evacuations centres supporting locals as they arrive. #Donate to support our work: 12:01 AM - 18 Oct 2013 Australian Red Cross RedCrossAU Follow
Emergency warnings remained in place
for fires in the Blue Mountains and the
Central Coast, just north of Sydney,
early Friday.
The biggest threat was on an
uncontained fire in Wyong, around 45
miles north of Sydney, with some
homes believed to have been
destroyed, the RFS said in its latest
Authorities expected to reopen some
areas in the Blue Mountains as the
weather turned milder on Friday.
Despite the damage New South Wales
Police and Emergency Services
Minister, Mike Gallacher said the loss
of just 100 homes could be considered
"lucky" given the magnitude of the
threat posed by the fires.
"I suspect given what I saw last
night ... I think the potential is most
certainly much higher," Gallacher told
Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
With dry weather and a massive land
area, Australia is particularly prone to
brushfires. In 2009, the "Black
Saturday" wildfires in Victoria state
killed 173 people and caused $4.4
billion worth of damage.