PERTH // Wildfires roared across a swath of western Australia today, razing almost 40 homes and sending hundreds of people fleeing for their lives, officials and witnesses said. At least three people were injured. Two major blazes burnt out of control overnight after breaking out yesterday afternoon in a wheat and sheep farming district north of the coastal city of Perth, forcing the evacuation of the township of Toodyay and threatening a second town, Badgingarra, further north.
The two fires scorched a combined total of more than 33,000 acres (13,400 hectares) of forest and farmland before cooler conditions today helped hundreds of firefighters contain the them. Western Australia state premier Colin Barnett declared a natural disaster - freeing up emergency funds for survivors - and praised authorities who battled the blazes. "There is no doubt they saved lives last night," Mr Barnett said today after visiting burnt out homes in Toodyay. "If you saw the destruction, houses totally destroyed and people were got to safety by the emergency services."
The state Fire and Emergency Services Authority said at least 37 houses had been wrecked. Two firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and a third was treated for a heat-related illness. Farmers also reported stock being killed. The extent of the damage was still being assessed, said the emergency authority spokesman Allen Gale. Wildfires are common across Australian during the summer months, but they rarely claim so many homes. In February, Australia experienced its worst wildfire disaster on record when hundreds of blazes raced across huge parts of south-eastern Victoria state, killing 173 and destroying more than 2,000 homes in a single day.