MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - Raging bushfires destroyed two homes and sent residents of a famous Australian beauty spot fleeing for their lives on Friday (Dec 25) while firefighters using water-bombing aircraft struggled to control the flames, officials said.
In the latest of a series of devastating fires that have hit southeastern Victoria state in recent weeks, people in a string of communities on the state's south coast were evacuated to spend Christmas night in hastily organised shelters.
More than 150 firefighters with eight aircraft and 60 fire trucks spent the holiday fighting the fires along the Great Ocean Road, a major tourism draw to the southwest of Melbourne due to the bizarre rock formations to be seen offshore in the Southern Ocean.
"We have got two confirmed houses lost. They were lost today," a spokesman for the state's emergency services told Reuters by telephone.
Fires engulfed entire trees within a short distance of homes while repeated water-bombing appeared to have little impact.
The Great Ocean Road itself, normally packed during holiday periods, was closed by emergency services, who said 1,400ha had so far been burnt.
It is the latest of a series of bushfires to hit the state this year. Although a change in the weather was predicted, emergency services said the threat was likely to remain for some time.
In 2009, Victoria witnessed Australia's worst ever bushfire disaster, which has since been dubbed Black Saturday.