South Australian premier Jay Weatherill has confirmed at least two people have died in a bushfire that swept through grasslands 60km north of Adelaide on Wednesday afternoon.
There are fears a third person died after a car hit a tree near Freeling, 60km north of the capital, but it remains unconfirmed.
At least nine people have been injured.
“Our priority will be to access these sites safely and, of course, to notify the next of kin,” the premier said, adding that property and stock losses were also substantial.
One of the state’s largest piggeries, at Wasleys, was burned down, killing several thousand pigs.
One body was found in a car, the other in a paddock near Pinery, not far from where the blaze began at around noon on Wednesday.
The premier said the priority was the safety of people and getting the fire under control.
“If conditions allow in the next few hours we will attempt to actively place control lines in front of the fire front,” Weatherill said.
“Depending on conditions, and if they are favourable, we know there will be at least 3-4 days of work ahead of us.
Firefighters across the state have been battling 14 blazes in windy conditions with the most dangerous fire burning out of control near Roseworthy, and heading towards the famed Barossa Valley wine region in weather conditions described as catastrophic by the Bureau of Meteorology.
The SA Country Fire Service said the Pinery fire as extremely dangerous and earlier today issued emergency warnings for Pinery, Owen, Hamley Bridge, Freeling, Greenock, Kapunda, Tanunda and Tarlee, Kapunda, Greenock and Nuriootpa just, saying there was a risk to lives and property. It was a sadly prophetic warning.
The danger posed by the fire was highlighted in this extract of one of the emergency warnings issued by the CFS for the Pinery fire:
If you are in this area you are in danger. Act immediately. Check and follow your Bushfire Survival Plan. Conditions at this fire may get worse very quickly.
Leave now if the path is clear to a safe place.
Homes are not designed or constructed to withstand a fire in these conditions.
Shelter before the fire arrives as radiant heat can kill you well before the flames reach you
If the building catches fire and the conditions inside become unbearable, you need to get out and go to an area that has already been burnt.
Power was lost to more than 22,000 properties in the area east of Roseworthy and up through the Barossa. At 9pm local time, 15,000 homes still lacked electricity.
The fire travelled more than 50 kilometres in just four hours and the fire front is now around 41km wide. It continues to move at around 12.5km an hour.
By 9pm local time, it had burnt out more than 8500 hectares, with a fire perimeter greater than 210km.
Here’s the CFS map of the blaze at 7pm.
More than 300 volunteer firefighters are on the frontline, which is being fanned by winds at up to 60km/h, and around 19 aircraft have been deployed, including two water bombers from NSW – the DC10 Southern Belle, and the Hercules air tanker Thor.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has also offered support and reinforcements.
Several houses, an 80-year-old bowling club, cars and a bus have been destroyed in Wasleys, west of the Barossa.
The University of Adelaide’s famed Roseworthy campus, where generations of Australian winemakers have trained, was damaged by the fire and some staff took shelter in the main building before emerging safely later.
The vice-chancellor of the Northern Territory’s Charles Darwin University, professor Simon Maddocks, could only watch on as the fire wreaked havoc on his property.
Firefighters have been injured and are in hospital with serious burns after a “burn over” – when the fire overruns a fire truck.
Another bushfire in the Polish Hill River, part of the Clare Valley wine region, earlier in the day is now under control after a massive effort involving more than 150 firefighters and aerial bombers. The blaze ripped through around 200 hectares of paddocks and stubble near Mintaro.
A third uncontrolled fire is burning in stubble near Lameroo, towards the Victorian border and heading in a westerly direction. The CFS has listed the blaze as “watch and act” at 4pm local time.
The threat from another fire at Buckingham in the southeast corner of the state near Bordertown has reduced.
SA Police have closed a number of roads around the Mallala area and have asked that motorists avoid the area. There are traffic restrictions on the Horrocks and Thiele highways.
The fire is moving fast and may affect other roads in the area, police say.
“The fire will be visible from the National Highway, but is burning away from the highway, and drivers are asked to take care in the area”, SA Police say.
For information on Emergency Road closures, click here.
Here are some images of the seen around Mallala, near the Barossa Valley.
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