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"Our toughest day for some time": SA fires burn in catastrophic conditions


A person has died, several properties damaged or destroyed and many others remain under threat from serious bushfires burning near Adelaide.

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Fires are burning out of control around the Adelaide Hills, prompting emergency warnings from the Country Fire Service.

The Country Fire Service says about 120 fires have been sparked across the state amid catastrophic fire conditions on Friday.

Emergency warnings were issued for several across the day, most notably a major fire which started at Cudlee Creek in the Adelaide Hills.

Another was issued for a blaze at Angle Vale, in the northern suburbs, another near Waterloo Corner, affecting the Port Wakefield Highway, one near Maitland on Yorke Peninsula and another at Parilla near Lameroo in the Murraylands.

The Angle Vale fire was later downgraded to a “watch and act” but not before destroying or damaging a number of properties.

CFS chief Mark Jones said the Adelaide Hills fire was unlikely to be contained soon with crews battling thick smoke.

As of 4.00pm the blaze, which began at Cudlee Creek, was still not contained and had burned more than 2000 hectares.

It was heading in south-east towards Lenswood, Balhannah, Woodside, Oakbank, Inverbrackie, Brukunga and Harrogate.

A forecast south-westerly wind change for 5pm also prompted a warning from the CFS for people in the Gumeracha, Birdwood and Mount Torrens areas to take action.

The CFS was reporting buildings on fire in Woodside, while spot fires ahead of the main front were also understood to have damaged some properties around the town of Lobethal.

We realised it wasn’t just grass and trees burning

Terry Stoeckel of Woodside told InDaily that he decided to leave his home a short time ago after realising that homes were on fire in the Hills town.

He said his gutters were filled with black ash as he filled them with water before leaving in his car with wife Andrea and driving to Mt Barker.

“It had gone from really thick white smoke to very dark smoke – that’s when you could smell plastic burning and you realised it wasn’t just grass and trees burning,” he said.

Jones said the terrain and the prevailing conditions were proving particularly challenging for fire crews.

“Access is difficult and dangerous for firefighters, the lack of visibility also makes it very difficult for crews,” he told reporters.

Four firefighters and three police officers were reported injured, while three CFS vehicles were “burnt through”.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens confirmed a person had been killed in a car accident near the scene of the Lameroo fire.

Premier Steven Marshall said it was “the toughest day for our state for some time”.

“This is a particularly volatile fire and one we’re very concerned about,” he said of the Cudlee Creek blaze.

“The clear message is we are not through this, this is a very anxious couple of hours for the people of SA.”

Stevens said the “dynamic and unpredictable nature” of the fire created concern for responders.

“I’d encourage people who are thinking about leaving affected areas to do so safely,” he said.

The prevailing weather conditions prevented reinforcements arriving from interstate this afternoon.

Many locals residents had opted to leave but some have remained to defend their homes.

The CFS had 74 fire trucks and 11 aircraft tackling the Adelaide Hills fire with 18 trucks mopping up at Angle Vale.

On Yorke Peninsula, 36 crews and six aircraft were in action battling the blaze in stubble as it headed uncontrolled towards Maitland.

More than 500 firefighters were in the field across the three incidents with extra aerial resources brought in from NSW and Victoria.

The fires came on SA’s worst day for fire conditions so far this summer with catastrophic risk declared in six districts.

The state was being hit by a combination of extremely high temperatures and rising winds with the potential for thousands of lightning strikes in the afternoon.

A gusty wind shift during the day would cause added dramas with the CFS warning that if fires start, they would be almost impossible to contain.

Temperatures in some parts of the state were expected to get close to 50C with Adelaide forecast to have a top of 46C which would make it the city’s hottest-ever December day.

Rising winds on the Yorke Peninsula also whipped up dust with police warning that visibility was low.

Afternoon rain and hail provided a surreal twist to proceedings as fires continued to rage.

– InDaily staff with AAP

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