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Raging Fires in Southern Australia Have Destroyed 100 Homes

People are writing their phone numbers on horses as they set them free ahead of evacuation orders.
January 8, 2016, 7:26pm
Image via Waroona Police

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As the sun set on the western tip of Australia this Friday, a week-long bushfire near the city of Perth had destroyed nearly 100 homes and razed an estimated 143,000 acres of land, according to Reuters. Wire agency UPI has reported flames up to 160 feet high.

The community of Yarloop, south of Perth and home to an estimated 545 residents, was the hardest hit, with Reuters reporting that nearly all of structures, including the post office and 95 homes, leveled by the blaze. Communities are being evacuated by road or air, as the fire has continued to push its way south towards the rural community of Harvey.

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The Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Services upheld a bushfire "watch and act" warning for people in the Dalyup area on Friday, on the southern coast below Perth, noting that "the fire has jumped containment lines and is uncontrolled."

The city of Forrestdale downgraded the fire warning to the less severe 'advice' warning, but an emergency warning for the community of Hopeland remained in place. The three people originally unaccounted for in Yarloop have since been reported as safe.

Ppl writing their phone numbers on horses before setting them free MORE https://t.co/idmgl2e69H #wafires #perthnews pic.twitter.com/BSPmnIs3ur

— The West Australian (@thewest_com_au) January 8, 2016

As helicopters surveyed the damage on Friday, they found animals stranded in charred fields, while some owners took to writing their phone numbers on their horses in the hope that they would be found safe and returned. [https://twitter.com/thewest_com_au/status/685338872914391040]

The blaze is believed to have been ignited by lightning that touched down during a storm earlier this week. While storms and the accompanying lightning strikes are not uncommon this time of year, extremely warm weather and dry conditions created ample fuel for fire.

Please keep yourself up to date with DFES bushfire emergency warnings - https://t.co/OkKx6bVpws pic.twitter.com/SfRXcNKW5p

— Waroona Police (@WaroonaPol) January 6, 2016

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Another view of the fire from the town of Waroona. Please monitor @dfes_wa alerts page - https://t.co/UapunztZxF pic.twitter.com/mRkYlstNH3

— Waroona Police (@WaroonaPol) January 6, 2016

Warmer waters in the Indian Ocean and a strong Niño formation have contributed to drier weather across country, according to Austrailia's Bureau of Meteorology, which warned late last year that the country was "not well buffered with moisture leading into the warmer months."

While 2015 is almost certain to go down as the hottest year on record, it was Australia's fifth hottest on record since recordkeeping began in 1910. The country's Bureau of Meteorology reports that the mean temperature was 0.65 degrees Fahrenheit above the previous record from the period spanning October to December.

Related: Scientists Say Massive Wildfires Raging Across Australia Are a Symptom of Climate Change

"Australia fires are an ever-present, every-year phenomenon," said Mark Cochrane, a geospatial scientist at South Dakota State University. "In different places and in different years, they are more prevalent, and in El Niño years they tend to be even more prevalent."

On the whole, Cochrane says that Australia could see more long-term drying, but also an increase in the prevalence of heat waves or single day events, which he attributed to a changing climate, that pose an extreme fire danger. In recent years, given the severity and frequency of bush fires, the government has added an additional "catastrophic" category to its fire warning system.

Persistently higher temperatures have led some scientists to believe that a changing climate could lead to a longer, more severe fire season in the future.

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