Australian fire damage 'like war zone'

Posted at 11/26/2011 10:02 AM

PERTH - An Australian bushfire which ripped through a scenic coastal region left some areas looking like a war zone, residents said Saturday as authorities downgraded the alert level.

Thirty-four houses, four sheds and nine chalets, including the historic 1865 Wallcliffe House, were lost in the blaze which also damaged a further 16 houses and one shop at Prevelly, Gnarabup and Redgate.

"Although the warning was downgraded overnight... a fire threat still exists and may worsen at any time," Western Australia's Department of Environment and Conservation's bushfire advisory said.

It is expected it will take a week to fully extinguish the flames which ripped through some 3,363 hectares in the coastal, wine-growing region about 280 kilometres (170 miles) south of the west coast city of Perth.

One man who lost his home, Garrath Stewart, said his street had been badly hit by the blaze which burned out his house but left clothes on the washing line in the garden virtually untouched.

"Napalm, Vietnam, defoliation -- there's just no vegetation in certain areas -- you look out and it's just sand and dead trees," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation after being taken by bus to see the devastation.

"It's like a war zone," one firefighter told Sky News. "Nothing can compare."

The fire was sparked by a government burn-off which got out of control as high winds and soaring temperatures hit the area on Wednesday and Thursday.

Fire crews made the most of milder conditions Friday to strengthen containment lines and about 250 firefighters and volunteers, aided by water bombers, were working to ensure the fire does not spread again.

Bushfires are common in Australia where in February 2009 the deadly "Black Saturday" firestorm claimed 173 lives in southeastern Victoria state -- the nation's worst natural disaster of modern times.