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Emergency services hailed as bushfire recovery begins

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The bushfire that forced the evacuation of towns, destroyed homes and injured more than 30 people on the Yorke Peninsula has been contained, the Country Fire Service says.

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Addressing reporters today, Premier Steven Marshall said it was a “miracle” no human lives were lost in the blaze, which damaged or destroyed at least 11 properties, including homes and sheds. A total of 33 people have been treated for minor injuries including smoke inhalation.

“The fact that there has been no human loss of life is a miracle, because the conditions on Wednesday were catastrophic, right across our state,” said Marshall.

“The conditions on Wednesday were catastrophic – in fact, they were possibly the worst we’ve ever had in the history of South Australia.

“If it wasn’t for our brave firefighters from the CFS and also the MFS, the Department of Department and water, the friends at the State Emergency Service – if they didn’t all come together there would be a very different scene here.”

He described “scenes of substantial devastation” and a “resilient community which has come together during these absolutely trying times”.

“There are a lot of very emotional people here at the moment – people who are returning to the devastation,” he said.

“They’ve lost their livestock, they’ve lost their vehicles and they’ve lost their family homes, they’ve lost their sheds and they’ve lost their crops.

“So, a very difficult situation for the people of the Yorke Peninsula at the moment and our heart goes out to them.”

The blaze broke out on Wednesday afternoon and burned towards the coastal towns of Edithburgh and Coobowie, and was brought under control late yesterday.

It burnt through about 5000 hectares over an area with a 61-kilometre perimeter, wiping out “a high number” of stock and crops.

The Country Fire Service said an electrical fault was the original cause of the fire.

CFS Chief Mark Jones said: “We bitterly regret the loss of livestock, livelihood, homes, but we celebrate that no lives were lost.”

“The state endured catastrophic conditions in almost half of the districts.

“It’s a testament to the skill and expertise, and training of our volunteer fire crews and all of the other emergency service agencies which backed us that it wasn’t a catastrophe that resulted.”

He said people needed to remain vigilant.

“We’re moving into summer. The weather will continue to test us,” he said.

“If people listen to the safety messages, have plans in their homes … catastrophes can be averted.”

He said “one or two crew members” had been injured fighting the fires, but that they were expected to make a full recovery.

Senior meteorologist Paul Birman of the Bureau of Meteorology said temperatures near Edithburgh rose to 43.9 degrees on Wednesday before a cool change came through – dropping temperatures in the area by about 10 degrees – in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Birman said temperatures would remain cooler in the area over the next couple of days before rising to a maximum of 30 degress, with winds picking up on Monday.

Those worst-hit by the Yorketown bushfires now have access to hardship payments of $280 per adult or up to $700 for a family.

Federal Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud said the assistance was being provided through jointly funded Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements.

“These hardship payments are to help meet immediate needs such as food, clothing and medicine,” he said.

“Further assistance will be made available once we get a clearer picture of damages on the ground.”

Rhonda Stewart was at the Edithburgh Caravan Park when she and the others on site were told to evacuate just before midnight.

“A lot of the people who were travelling, we all elected to go down to the boat ramp just near the beach,” she said.

“Just as it was getting light, around 5 or 6am, light turned to dark and all you could see was smoke.

“You couldn’t see the boat ramp, you couldn’t see the beach.”

The Yorketown fire was one of 65 which broke out across South Australia on Wednesday amid soaring temperatures, high winds and dust storms.

A number of those prompted emergency warnings including two north of Adelaide, one in the Barossa Valley and a second fire at Price on Yorke Peninsula where properties may also have been lost.

CFS incident controller Richard de Groot told reporters yesterday that there had been “strong winds, high fire intensity, high rates of spread and, in that context, it produced lots of smoke and lots of dust”.

“It was at a point of practically no visibility. There were some fairly stressful moments.”

For information about personal hardship and distress assistance people can visit the Emergency Relief Centre at the Stansbury Sports and Community Centre or contact the Recovery Hotline on 1800 302 787.

For information about personal and financial counselling people can call the Financial Counselling Helpline on 1800 007 007 and the Rural Financial Counselling Service on 1800 836 211.

Further information on disaster assistance is at www.disasterassist.gov.au and information specific to the Yorketown fire is at www.dhs.sa.gov.au/yorketown

– with AAP

 

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