SYDNEY, Dec 30, 2009 (AFP) - A raging wildfire in Australia's west has destroyed at least 20 homes and injured three firefighters, officials said Wednesday, evoking bleak memories of devastating fires in February.
Hundreds of firefighters were battling the out-of-control blaze at Toodyay, a farming district about 80 kilometres (50 miles) northeast of Perth, after hot and windy weather fuelled fires in the region.
"We can confirm that 20 homes have been lost, but early indications of people moving through the area is that the number could double," Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) spokesman Allen Gale said.
"House after house has been destroyed, in a line, and there are still pockets where the fire is still burning."
Three firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and dehydration after battling the flames, which consumed some 2,700 hectares (6,700 acres) including houses, sheds and farmland.
Officials warned residents not to return to their homes with flames burning as high as two metres (seven feet) and trees smouldering on the roadsides.
"The people directly affected by the fire, obviously, want to get back to their properties, but the area is very unsafe," Gale said.
"There's a lot of shock for the people right now. It's a mess out there, but people in town are helping and wanting to offer assistance, which is great."
A second major fire in Badgingarra, about 160 kilometres north of Perth, had also burned through some 10,500 hectares of land, although no homes were lost.
"The bushfire has been now been contained but is not under control," FESA said.
Cooler conditions and water-bombing helicopters were expected to help firefighters on Wednesday.
Australia is still reeling from a day in February that came to be known as Black Saturday, when 173 people died and more than 2,000 homes were lost in the state of Victoria in the country's worst natural disaster of modern times.
Wildfires are a common feature of the Australian summer, particularly in areas dried out by prolonged drought.