As Australian firefighters battled worsening conditions to douse some 100 blazes on Friday, local residents who fled for their lives faced the trauma of returning to see whether they still had a home standing.
After two days of cooler weather, heat and high winds returned to much of the country as fire crews tackled the infernos that have been burning for a week, 18 of them out of control in the most populous state of New South Wales.
The southern island state of Tasmania has been hardest hit, with more than 100 homes razed, most in the fishing village of Dunalley, which was cut off, forcing some residents to make dramatic escapes by boat.
The worst-affected areas have been in virtual lock down since the fast-moving flames wreaked devastation a week ago, and townspeople are only now making the harrowing journey to inspect the damage.
Many have no idea whether their houses are still standing, and with smoke still billowing overhead, police warned fires remain active in the area as emergency crews work to clear roads and restore electricity supplies.
“It must be remembered that some of these people don’t know whether they have lost their homes, whether they’ve been badly damaged or were saved from the fire,” police Cmdr. Peter Edwards told reporters.
“It’s important that those without a genuine need to access the peninsula don’t try to do so, as it will only slow progress for the residents who are obviously very anxious to return to their homes.”
Counseling services have been made available as families come to terms with what they might find, while media representatives have been asked to stay away to protect residents’ privacy.
“It can be very traumatic when you go back and see the house you lived in, the street you lived in, the town you lived in, has been so fire-affected,” said acting Tasmanian police Commissioner Scott Tilyard.