PERTH • Four people have died in bushfires raging out of control in parts of Western Australia, with a shocked local community lamenting the "day from hell".
Several fast-moving blazes, sparked by lightning, were burning yesterday around Esperance, 750km south-east of Perth, with hundreds of firemen working round the clock in searing temperatures to put out the first serious fires ahead of the Australian summer.
"Sadly, police have confirmed four fatalities," state Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Wayne Gregson said, adding that two women and two men, in two separate cars, died trying to escape the flames.
One of the men was reportedly a local farmer who had been driving to neighbouring properties to warn people before trying to make his own escape. In the other car were three people believed to be German backpackers working on farms in the area.
Owner of the local Gibson Hotel, Ms Dianne Waddington, told The West Australian newspaper that the first priority for farmers was to get backpackers to leave "because they don't understand how fires work in Australia; a lot of them are from Germany and wider Europe".
"I can also record that at this stage there are three houses or buildings unconfirmed as being lost in those fires around Esperance," said Mr Gregson.
Last night, 165 properties were without electricity after the fires destroyed at least 100 power poles, ABC News reported.
"Flames are up to 2m high," the Department of Fire and Emergency Services said in an advisory.
Esperance Shire president Victoria Brown said the remote coastal community was in shock."This is going to have a massive impact on our community. It is the biggest fire we've had to deal with in this region."