Rod McGuirk, Associated Press
Published November 8, 2019 at 8:41 pm
Last updated Friday, November 08, 2019 9:49 PM EST
CANBERRA, Australia – East Australian fires have left two people dead and several missing, more than 30 injured and more than 100 homes destroyed, officials said on Saturday.
About 1,500 firefighters were fighting 70 fires across Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, with the most intense in the northeast, where flames were fanned by high winds, said Rural Fire Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.
Firefighters found a body on Saturday in a burned-out car near Glen Innes, he said.
A woman who was found unconscious on Friday and with severe burns near Glen Innes died in the hospital, he said.
Another seven people were found missing near the same fire.
"We expect that number (missing persons) to rise today," Fitzsimmons told reporters. "There are really serious concerns that there may be more loss or more deaths."
More than 30 people, including firefighters, received medical treatment for burns and one patient had cardiac arrest, he said.
At least 100 homes have been estimated to have been destroyed since Friday, but that number could be significantly increased as firefighters are able to put out flames and access fire zones, Fitzsimmons said.
Hundreds of people evacuated their homes along a 500-kilometer strip off the east coast of the Queensland state border south of Forster.
Forster is a city 300 kilometers (190 miles) north of Sydney, Australia's largest city. Many spent the night in evacuation centers while others slept in cars.
In Queensland, more than 30 fires occurred on Saturday. At least one house was lost, a firefighter suffered a broken leg and 2,000 residents were removed from two cities in the southeastern state, officials said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned Australia to expect more bad news in the fire zones.
"The devastating and horrible fires we saw particularly in New South Wales but also in Queensland were absolutely chilling," Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
In Taree City, New South Wales, more than 300 people were evacuated overnight to the social club, including Club Taree chief executive Morgan Stewart.
"It was very scary," said Stewart. "We're hearing a lot of stories about lost homes, lost properties, property and effects, animals, land. It will be horrible, I think."
Peter Lean spent the night on the roof of his home in Wallabi Point, extinguishing burning embers in high winds.
"I've never seen the sky so red since 2000," said Lean. "We have winds blowing, they're circling, it's like a cyclone."
Fire danger reached unprecedented levels in New South Wales on Friday, when 17 fires were burning in the most extreme hazard classification known as the Emergency Alert Level.
"I only remember less than 10 we arrived (previously), which was an extraordinary event in recent years," said Fitzsimmons.
"The fact that we have 17 at the same time yesterday and nine more burns in the Watch and Act (Level) is a magnitude we simply haven't seen before, requiring so much attention, so much priority, so much competition for resources and we need to reach different communities," he added. .
Only two fires were burning in the highest hazard rating until Saturday.
Australia's annual fire season, which peaks during the summer in the Southern Hemisphere, began early after an unusually hot and dry winter.