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Wildfires in Australia destroy homes, ski lodge; residents urged to flee western city

HOBART, Australia (AP) _ Dozens of wildfires burning Tuesday across southern Australia destroyed more than a dozen homes and a popular ski lodge, while residents in a suburb of the western city of Perth were urged to flee an approaching blaze.

More than 3,000 firefighters were working to contain the fires in four states, with the worst centered in Victoria and the island state of Tasmania.

In Victoria, firefighters assisted by bulldozers and water bombing aircraft battled to dig containment lines around a series of wildfires that have blackened more than 965 square miles, or 617,750 acres, of alpine and farm land.

A popular ski lodge in Australia's Snowy Mountains was destroyed after firefighters failed to fend off the blaze, according to media reports.

Smaller fires were also burning in New South Wales and Western Australia, where officials were urging residents to evacuate their homes in the hills near the state capital of Perth.

Wildfires are a regular feature of Australia's hot summer, but the danger has been heightened this year by the country's worst drought in more than a century. No deaths have been reported.

In Tasmania, firefighters were frantically digging containment lines in a bid to stop a fire that raged through the northeastern town of Scamander late Monday, destroying at least 14 homes, according to media reports.

Tasmanian Fire Service spokesman Danny Reid said firefighters had been helpless to stop the blaze amid 74 mph wind gusts.

``The conditions were that bad there was nothing to be done,'' he said. ``It just went off like a bomb. ... You can't fight that, you can't defend it. (It was a) horrible afternoon and night.''

Scamander resident Sue Brown fled her home as the fire approached.

``It was terrifying, I just grabbed my dog and my daughter and we went,'' Brown said.

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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