Wed, 17 Jan 2007 07:29 CST
MELBOURNE, Australia - Wildfires tore through southern Australia late Tuesday, destroying eight houses and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without electricity, an official said.
One home was destroyed in a fire caused by a lightning strike west of Melbourne. Seven others were razed in a blaze that blackened nearly 67,000 acres in northeast Victoria state, said Pat Groenhout, a state emergency spokesman. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Lightning strikes started several other blazes late Tuesday, and were expected to spark other fires amid soaring temperatures, Groenhout said.
The northeast fire cut a main electricity circuit, plunging some 200,000 homes and businesses into darkness and affecting hundreds of traffic signals and suburban train services. Several people were caught in elevators when power went out in some buildings, said Metropolitan Ambulance Service spokesman Phil Cullen.
The power was restored early Wednesday, but Victoria's Premier Steve Bracks urged residents to use electricity sensibly as the state entered another day of extremely high temperatures.
"This is the worst bush fire conditions we have ever had in Victoria's history because it is going to go on and it is going to get worse," Bracks told reporters Wednesday. "We have never encountered this in Victoria before."
Nearly 3,900 square miles of Victorian forest and ranch land have been destroyed since the start of the southern hemisphere summer, when soaring temperatures and gusty winds often combine to spur the sometimes deadly blazes.
Meanwhile, residents were being evacuated from a resort community in the Snowy Mountains of neighboring New South Wales state, where firefighters and six water-bombing aircraft were struggling to contain a blaze, the Rural Fire Service said.