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Australian bushfires destroy dozens of homes

Wildfires raging in Australia have resulted in the loss of over 100 homes. While rain has provided a small respite, dry winds are expected next week that could see the fire flare again.

The state premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, confirmed an additional 50 destroyed houses on Saturday in a press conference, bringing the total number of homes destroyed to over 100.

"It's kind of confirmed for us just how hot, just how volatile, just how intense this fire was, burning right to the water's edge," Daniels said.

The fire is burning along the coastal Great Ocean Road in the state of Victoria in southeast Australia. The town of Wye River, just over 150 kilometers (93 miles) down the coast from Melbourne, has been hit the worst, with ABC reporting that 85 homes have been lost there.

The fire has been burning since December 19, but flared up on Christmas Day due to unfavorable winds. This put many residents in danger, and evacuation warnings were issued. The fire was started by a lightning strike.

Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley praised residents for their response to the evacuation order, which had been prepared in advance and was quickly executed.

"They walked away from the fire that had every potential to be a killer, Lapsley said.

While overnight rain slowed the spread of the fire, officials do not think it will significantly impact the fire's spread. Warm weather is forecast into next week for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, which could cause the fire to flare again.

The state government has made disaster assistance funds available. Each eligible household can receive up to AUD$1,300 (863 euros, $948) to help cover immediate needs such as food and personal items. In the longer term, eligible households can also receive up o AUD$32,500 for clean-up, emergency accommodation, repairs, and rebuilding a principle residence.

"Our challenge now is to make sure that we provide those grants, and they're already flowing," Daniels said.

Hundreds of firefighters using dozens of trucks and support from aircraft are fighting the blaze, which is relatively small at 2,200 hectares. However, they have yet to gain the upper hand and continue their efforts to contain the fire.

mz/bk (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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