Australia fires leave trail of devastation near Perth

media captionPM Julia Gillard says some people have lost everything to the flames

Bushfires on the outskirts of Perth in Western Australia have destroyed more than 60 homes, officials say.

One blaze has now largely been brought under control, but fire-fighters are still battling the fires to the east and north of the city.

High flames are being whipped up by winds of up to 70km/h (44mph). Hundreds of people have left their homes.

The blazes come exactly two years after 173 people died in bushfires that swept through the southern state of Victoria.

More than 100 firefighters are battling from the ground and air to extinguish the fires in the bush-fringed suburbs of Perth.

Swirling flames engulfed 64 houses and damaged 32 more, officials said. There have been no reports of serious injuries or fatalities.

Residents of one Perth suburb, Clifton Hills, have been told they are allowed to return home.

A Fire and Emergency Services Authority incident controller told a meeting of affected residents that the fire had been contained.

But other residents could face a longer wait as the fires in their area, while under control, are still burning.

'Scared stiff'

The Western Australian government has declared the area a natural disaster zone and has promised to provide financial assistance to the affected families.

Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett has announced short-term grants of A$3,000 (£1,885) for those who have lost their homes and A$1,000 for those whose property has suffered extensive damage, to help them through the coming days.

He toured the communities of Roleystone and Kelmscott and described the devastation as vast.

"All you see is bricks, burnt-out timber, twisted iron. And I know for those families when they do return, it's going to be absolutely heartbreaking," he said.

Hundreds of residents spent a nervous night in evacuation centres not knowing if their properties had been spared.

Lionel Goodall fought the blaze as long as he could as it raced towards his house.

"All the backyard is gone - it is all just black and smoke," he told the BBC.

"All the fences were alight so I just got my hose out and started putting all the fires out and in my next door neighbour's yard as well... We've got farmland behind us with short grass and it was very, very quick."

Many of the people in evacuation centres were still in a state of shock.

A resident from Roleystone, one of the worst-hit areas, who gave her name as Sylvia, told of her fear as the fires approached.

"We've had fires lots of years but we've never been evacuated before.

"You can't be as efficient as you want to be when you are panicking and things like that. You can't see the phone number in the phone book properly when you are panicking.

"I was staying calm on the outside but scared stiff on the inside," she told ABC news.

The BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney says fire investigators have dispelled fears of arson, a common cause of bushfires, and believe that one of the blazes was caused by sparks from a power tool.

There seems to be no end to Australia's summer of disasters, our correspondent says.

The fires near Perth follow major flooding in Queensland and Victoria that claimed the lives of more than 30 people.

Towns on the north-east coast of the country are continuing to clean up after last week's Cyclone Yasi - a category five storm - the most severe level - which destroyed hundreds of buildings and valuable crops.

The army is leading the recovery effort there, with bulldozers, cranes and tanks brought in on Monday to help move mountains of debris.

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