Police and rescue workers were going door to door in the southern Tasmanian towns of Dunalley and Boomer Bay to try to account for dozens missing after the fires hit the region on Friday, acting Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard said, according to CNN affiliate Network 10.
While there have been no casualties reported so far, Tilyard said he was “fearful that someone may have died in this fire.”
“It is a very distinct possibility still, and I think people need to brace themselves that that may be the case,” Tilyard told reporters in Tasmania’s capital of Hobart.
Hundreds of people have been evacuated by sea and air from the Tasman Peninsula because the fires have blocked roads in and out of the rural communities, officials said.
Evacuee Pam Macfarlane told Network 10 she didn’t know whether her home had survived the blaze. The fire reached her neighborhood less than an hour after she learned it had skipped over a nearby canal.
“It was terrifying. … I saw flames and I saw ashes coming,” she said.
Dazed residents sought shelter at relief centers.
“We’ve got people who are just walking in who’ve got absolutely nothing,” Tammy Mason, a relief coordinator, told Network 10. “They’re bewildered. A lot of them just want clean underwear and just a change of clothes.”
On Sunday, the Tasmania Fire Service warned a dangerouswildfire was advancing on Taranna, a small town known for the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park.
“If your home is well constructed, prepared and actively defended, it may provide shelter,” the fire service said in a emergency warning message issued Sunday night. “If you don’t have a plan or your plan is to leave — leave now only if the path is clear.”
About 65 homes and an elementary school were destroyed when the fire scorched Dunalley on Friday, authorities said.
Dozens more homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged in neighboring communities, including the hamlet of Boomer Bay, they said.
Aerial photographs taken by CNN affiliate Nine News showed the fire’s fury as it hopscotched homes in Dunalley and Boomer Bay, burning two homes, leaving one standing and then burning another.
Tasmania’s fire chief told reporters Sunday that firefighters hope to bring the blaze under control by Tuesday.
Part of the problem is the rugged nature of the Tasman Peninsula, where the fires have been burning since last week, Chief Fire Officer Mike Brown said.
“There is still some problems getting fire vehicles into the Tasman Peninsula to work more on protecting properties and protecting assets,” he said.