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Deadly wildfires rage across Australia, with forecasts of worse to come

Vast swaths of Australia are still burning, with thousands of people under evacuation orders -- and forecasts of worse to come. A record summer fire season has charred 12 million acres, destroyed 1,400 homes and killed 17 people. The states of New South Wales and Victoria are hardest hit, but fires are also burning across the rest of the country. Dan Rivers of Independent Television News reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Vast swathes of Australia are still burning tonight, with forecasts of worse to come, and thousands of people ordered to evacuate. A record summer fire season has charred 12 million acres, destroyed 1,400 homes, and left 17 people dead.

    New South Wales and Victoria states are hardest hit, but fires are also burning across the rest of the country.

    Dan Rivers of Independent Television News reports from New South Wales, where whole communities are in ashes.

  • Man:

    Look at that burn.

  • Dan Rivers:

    In Conjola Park on New Year's Eve, it felt like the world was ending, not just the year. The wildfire swept through in minutes.

    Here, local resident Peter Ruetman films as the fire approached his neighbor's house. This is all that's left. And Peter's home didn't survive either.

  • Peter Ruetman:

    I jumped in the car. It was so hot. The heat — I can't describe how hot it was, and the ferocity and the speed of this fire. Anyone that thought they were going to beat this fire were really taking life into their own hands.

  • Dan Rivers:

    Pascale Hegarty hasn't experienced fear like this since she escaped the war in Lebanon.

  • Pascale Hegarty:

    Unbelievable. You could hear trees, gas bottles exploding. It was like a war zone. I have lived in war zone, and that's what it reminded me of, yes.

  • Dan Rivers:

    For those who have lost everything they own, the only comfort is knowing family and friends survived.

    This is what happens when one of these firestorms collides with a community. This is all that's left of Conjola Park, where at least 89 homes have been destroyed and one person killed. You can see it was literally hot enough to melt cars.

    And what's so worrying is, just a few miles down the coast, there are other placing facing exactly the same prospect.

    The Princes Highway is the only way out, and, right now, it's closed, a 200-mile traffic jam as the clock ticks down to more searing heat and fire risk this weekend.

  • Lucy Vu Nguyen:

    I would like to get home. I would like to not have to sleep in my car tonight. But I know there are probably others who — who, sort of, don't have food in the car and water with them. And the night will be quite tough for them, I think.

  • Dan Rivers:

    The Australian navy have been evacuating people from Mallacoota, where 4,000 people were stranded on the beach, exposed to choking smoke, and doing what they can to protect vulnerable lungs as they leave.

    The town may be cut off for weeks. With water supplies out, they're being brought in by boat, as the smoke means it's too dangerous to fly. A state of emergency has been declared, as Australia's prime minister fends off accusations of failing to grip this crisis.

    In Cobargo, residents refused to shake his hand, heckling him as he visited the devastated town.

  • Woman:

    How come we only had four trucks to defend our town? Because our town doesn't have a lot of money. But we have hearts of gold, Mr. Prime Minister.

  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison:

    I think that the strength of the individuals, as we have just seen on display here, I think that says everything about Australia, and the spirit that will get them through this weekend, and the spirit will help them rebuild.

  • Dan Rivers:

    Some are already blaming climate change for the three-year drought which has preceded this crisis, reeling from what they have lost, but they know there may be more to come this weekend.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That report from Dan Rivers of Independent Television News.

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