Sydney (dpa) – Three German backpackers and a local farmer were reported killed in bushfires on the south coast of Western Australia Wednesday.
The German man and two women were killed in their car as they tried to flee the raging bushfires, the broadcaster ABC reported local people near Esperance saying.
A police spokesman declined to confirm victims’ details, telling dpa it might take several days to formally identify the four bodies and relatives had to be notified first.
But a spokesman for West Australian Premier Colin Barnett confirmed three of the dead were foreign nationals.
The West Australian newspaper said the three backpackers had been working on farms in the area, according to locals.
The local victim, farmer Kym Curnow, 45, was been hailed a hero for going from farm to farm warning people to get out, and stopping cars that were heading towards the fires as the blaze was whipped by 100-kilometre-per-hour winds across a 70-kilometre front.
His body was reportedly found in his vehicle, while the bodies of the three backpackers were found in a separate car that apparently crashed into a tree in the confusion of the smoke.
Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner chief Wayne Gregson said fire conditions around Esperance were “catastrophic and unstoppable.”
Hotel owner Dianne Waddington said the bushfire was the worst she had seen in 20 years.
“Between the smoke and the dust it was just horrific,” she said. More than 300 people are taking shelter in a school hall in the town, which was not threatened by the flames.
Esperance shire president Victoria Brown told the ABC the community was in shock after “the day from hell. It was devastating.”
Two more people may have killed in reports that were not confirmed by police.
Bush fires also broke out in South Australia Wednesday threatening several farms, and the east coast is bracing for temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius on Friday as the heatwave spreads across the country.