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Two dead, towns destroyed as firefighters battle Australia bushfire

Two people have died and hundreds of homes have been razed in a huge bushfire in Australia. Firefighters continue to battle the out-of-control blaze, but eased weather conditions may offer a reprieve.

Australian authorities said Sunday that the bodies of the deceased were found in burnt-out homes in Yarloop, a historic town 110 kilometers (70 miles) south of the state capital, Perth.

The deceased are believed to be two missing men aged 73 and 77, Western Australia Police officials told the AFP news agency.

The blaze, which has burnt around 71,000 hectares (175,000 acres) in Western Australia, is the most recent in a string of massive bushfires across the country this summer, with the latest deaths bringing the national bushfire death toll to eight.

"It's just another day of catastrophe, isn't it?" Tania Jackson, the local shire mayor told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"Each day that has gone by seems to bring worse news. It's devastating," she added.

The bushfire, which reportedly started by lightning strike, has been burning for five days. More than 140 properties have been destroyed, including 121 homes in Yarloop, the West Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said.

The blaze has a perimeter of about 226 kilometers and is still burning out-of-control.

Weather bureau forecaster Angus Moore told the ABC that cooler temperatures and easing winds had been forecast for later on Sunday, something firefighters were hoping to take advantage of.

A DFES spokeswoman told AFP, the cooler conditions would allow those battling the blaze “to gain more ground on the fire and to increase containment lines.”

Several towns still remain under threat, she added.

Natural disaster declared

Western Australia's Premier Colin Barnett declared the event a natural disaster, a measure that gives residents access to greater financial assistance, adding the "damage bill is going to be very significant."

Yarloop residents spoke of how the bushfire swept through their town in just seven minutes.

"During the day, the hills were very dark and smoking," dairy farmer Joe Angi told the ABC on Saturday.

"But the wind picked up just on dark and she's just come down from the hills, straight down, flat out. It was tumbling over itself like a wave."

Bushfires are common in Australia during the hotter months.

Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Wayne Gregson warned the worst of the bushfire season was yet to come.

"There is still another 10 or more weeks to go in what is predicted to be a difficult bushfire season," Gregson told Western Australia's The Sunday Times newspaper.

"Late January to early February is traditionally the most intense summer period, when we can experience hot weather with dry winds and seasonal lighting."

In 2009, Australia experienced its worst bushfires in living memory which devastated parts of the southeastern state of Victoria, destroying thousands of homes and leaving 173 people dead.

jlw/ng (AFP, AP)

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