Dozens of homes were feared lost as an intense bushfire affecting thousands of acres raged out of control in South Australia Saturday, forcing residents to flee their homes and leaving 2,000 firefighters struggling to contain the worst blaze the region has seen in decades.
The fires at Sampson Flat, located northeast of the state capital Adelaide in the country's south, was spreading rapidly in all directions, sweeping from a 380-acre area on Friday afternoon to nearly 12,000 acres on Saturday. Officials urged people to evacuate 19 towns in the Adelaide Hills, an area with a population of about 40,000 known for its farms and wineries.
"Your life is at risk," South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill told residents of the Mount Lofty Ranges east of Adelaide, urging them to leave as fire raged through the rugged scrub. "If you've decided to stay, you need to be aware that the fire will become incredibly scary and could lead you to change your mind at some point. It could be a catastrophic decision for you to leave late," he said.
So far five homes have been destroyed, and reports have suggested that dozens more could be lost, but authorities said they have not yet been able to visit the area to confirm the losses. Eight firefighters suffered minor injuries.
Bushfires are common in Australia in the summer months, which runs from December through February. Fires in the state of New South Wales in 2013 destroyed over 200 homes.
South Australia fire officials said it would likely take days to get the fires under control. Fire crews have also used more than a dozen aircraft to dump water on the flames.
"We have a fire which is extremely dangerous, and it is burning under extremely adverse conditions," South Australia's Country Fire Service chief Greg Nettleton said. "Residents in the Adelaide Hills are being confronted by a fire which hasn't been seen in the hills since the 1983 bushfires of Ash Wednesday."
The 1983 disaster killed more than 70 people in the states of South Australia and Victoria and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.
The "Black Saturday" bushfires of February 2009 left 173 people dead and razed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria.
Temperatures also soared overnight Saturday in Victoria, where firefighters battled more than 320 blazes and one fire is still burning near Maroona, in the state’s west.
Al Jazeera and wire services