Storms Bring Destructive Winds, Ignite Wildfires in Australia; Five Firefighters Injured
Australia storm and wildfires

Workers inspect damaged electricity transmission towers on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. Powerful winds have killed at least one person and brought widespread destruction across Australia’s second-most populous state, leaving 530,000 homes and businesses without power and fanning fires that razed homes and left five firefighters injured, officials say. (Con Chronis/AAP Image via AP)

By ROD McGUIRK Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Powerful winds have killed a man and brought widespread destruction across Australia’s second-most populous state, leaving 530,000 homes and businesses without power and fanning fires that razed homes and injured five firefighters, officials said on Wednesday.

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Winds of up to 157 kph (98 mph) toppled six electricity transmission towers on Tuesday and caused one of the highest number of power outages Victoria state had ever experienced, Emergency Management Commissioner Rick Nugent said.

“The storms were the most destructive in years and years and unfortunately from time to time this can occur,” Nugent told reporters, referring to the widespread power outages.

A 50-year-old dairy farmer was killed by flying debris while driving a tractor near Mirboo North in southeast Victoria on Tuesday, Nugent said.

Storms also brought lightning strikes that sparked several forest fires in the west of the state, damaging homes in the township of Pomonal. Nugent confirmed houses had been lost but declined to provide an estimate of how many.

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Five firefighters who were protecting Pomonal sustained minor burns from cinders on Tuesday night when the fire changed direction and burnt over their truck, officials said.

Weather conditions had eased on Wednesday and the fire risk had diminished.

Temperatures had exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of Victoria on Tuesday. But maximums were forecast to be closer to 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday.

The number of homes and businesses without power had fallen to 220,000 by Wednesday morning.

Daniel Westerman, chief executive of Australian Energy Market Operator, which manages the national electricity and gas markets, said the collapse of two transmission towers between the state capital Melbourne and the neighboring city of Geelong had “sent shock waves” through the state’s power grid.

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He expected many more customers would have power restored by late Thursday.

Emergency crews were working on Wednesday to clear roads and train lines across the state of fallen trees and power lines.

Schools remained closed in the hardest hit parts of the state for a second day on Wednesday.

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Powerful winds have killed a man and brought widespread destruction across Australia’s second-most populous state, fanning fires that injured five firefighters.

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