A Christmas Day bushfire in southern Australia ravaged over 100 houses and forced thousands of people to evacuate, authorities said Saturday. The blaze in Melbourne, Wye River and Separation Creek in the state of Victoria began Friday after lightning struck the area and spread due to hot weather and winds.
No casualties were reported in the fire, which cooled down Saturday, following cold weather and rain. However, authorities cautioned that the blaze could continue for weeks. The fire destroyed 116 homes, most of them holiday homes, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
"It's kind of confirmed for us just how hot, just how volatile, just how intense this fire was, burning right to the water's edge," Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Victoria Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley commended the residents for following the evacuation warning. "You've got to stand proud to say that people are with us — that is, they've walked away from the fire that had every potential to be a killer," Lapsley said, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Five hundred firefighters and 13 aircraft were reportedly fighting the fire on Christmas. The bushfire led to the temporary closure of a section of Great Ocean Road, which goes along Victoria's coastline and past the area’s popular Apostles — a collection of giant limestone stacks that project dramatically out of the sea, the AP reported.
Wildfires are common in Australia during the southern hemisphere summer. In 2009, wildfires claimed 173 lives and destroyed over 2,000 homes in Victoria.