Authorities have confirmed four people have died in bushfires raging out of control near Esperance, on the southern coast of Western Australia.
The two men and two women died in two separate vehicles while attempting to flee the fires. Three of the victims are believed to be German backpackers; the fourth was a farmer who was attempting to reach his neighbours to warn them of the fire.
The news of the deaths comes as Australians brace themselves for a heat wave sweeping the nation, raising temperatures throughout the mainland to well above the norm for this time of year.
Four separate fires are raging in the Esperance area, the ABC reports, with the two burning at Grass Patch and Salmon Gums, 100km north of Esperance, and at Stockyard Creek, 25km east of the town, the most serious.
Residents were yesterday advised to act immediately, with authorities recommending people to leave their homes before it’s too late. Around 360 people have been evacuated from the affected regions.
Despite deploying all available Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) resources to the area, the fires continue to burn out of control, fanned by strong, gusty winds. Firefighters have been battling horrendous conditions in extreme temperatures of over 40C.
Fire and Emergency Services Regional Superintendent Trevor Tasker told the ABC the blaze at Salmon Gums was the worst he had ever seen. "The wind and weather conditions ... there was no stopping it."
Esperance Shire President Victoria Brown believes it will take at least three to five days to bring the fires under control.
The North Cascade fire was started by a lightening strike during a wild thunderstorm on Sunday. Lightening strikes during the storm started some 30 fires across the state.