At least 14 people have been killed in wildfires fueled by strong winds and scorching temperatures in southeastern Australia, police said Saturday.Victoria state police spokesman Wayne Wilson said the bodies were recovered in four separate locations. None of the victims have yet been identified.
The fires “took off” in the area on Saturday and are still raging, Wilson said, adding that the death toll could rise.
An estimated 12,140 hectares (30,000 acres) were ablaze, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
On Saturday, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service asked residents to remain indoors and close all windows, as prevailing winds continue to push smoke from the bush into Greater Sydney, where an expected heat wave is alarming local residents, including the city’s elderly population.
In New South Wales, firefighters battled at least 35 fires since Friday, officials said, brought by intense storms associated with a recent heat wave.
Firefighters used aircrafts to spray the region as dust storms and high winds continue to spread the flames.
In Victoria Saturday, where temperatures registered about 46 celsius (115 F), 30 blazes were registered in 30 hours, said Fran Ludgate with Australia’s Fire Protection Association.
“I just visited my home in the countryside to check out the situation,” said Ludgate. “I saw an orange glow in the next valley and that was enough for us to pack up and leave.”
Sharon Foster, a schoolteacher in Victoria, told that the spreading fire is encircling the outskirts of Melbourne, where she lives.
“It’s a pretty amazing experience to witness,” said Foster. “People who don’t live here could never understand. “We live in an open country where trees can burn up quickly and so people have to make very quick decisions.”
“Fire is part of our lives, part of what we do. But it is still extremely frightful,” she said.
Victoria’s Herald Sun newspaper reported that 30 homes were destroyed on Saturday, critically injuring one person who suffered burns to 50 percent of his body.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said that while the heatwave will peak again in the South East, cooler conditions are expected earlier next week.