Hundreds of local residents and tourists took to the sea in boats Saturday in their desperation to escape forest fires that burned to the waterline in the south-east of Australia's island state of Tasmania.
More than 1 000 people were ferried in an armada of rescue boats and pleasure craft 50 kilometres north to safety in the state capital, Hobart.
But thousands were left behind to cope as best they can for a second night trapped by blazes whipped up by record temperatures.
“The vast majority of people remain down there,” acting police commissioner Scott Tilyard said. “Where we possibly could we were moving people out by vessel overnight.”
At the former penal colony of Port Arthur, now a major tourist attraction, 700 people, most of them visitors, were awaiting rescue.
Port Arthur, along with much of the Tasman Peninsula, is without power or telephone connections.
Tilyard said 3,000 meals had been ferried to Port Arthur and other locations where those cornered by the flames face another night camping out.
More than 100 properties have been lost, with the fishing village of Dunalley losing its school, police station, petrol station and bakery.
“I think the estimate is that 30 or 40 per cent of properties in Dunalley have been lost in the fire,” Tilyard said.
Tour operator Nick Wardlaw told national broadcaster ABC that some have lost everything.
“They've got out with basically just the clothes on their backs and nothing else and they're at the moment camping with friends.”
There were no confirmed reports of death or injury.
“My message is there's only one you,” Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a message to those around the country contending with bushfires and searing heat. “Everything else in life, at the end of the day, no matter how precious, can be replaced.”
On Friday, Hobart registered a temperature of above 41 degrees, the highest since records started in 1883.
In Hay, a farming town in New South Wales, the most populous state, the temperature hit 48 degrees. In Canberra, the national capital, the mercury hit 37 degrees.
In the far west, Perth recorded its hottest week in 80 years with an average of 39 degrees. Perth hospitals reported ambulances arriving with those whose bodies were unable to cope with the relentless heat.
Doctors at the Heart Foundation warned that heatwaves cost more lives in Australia than any other natural hazard and urged against vigorous exercise.
The warning came too late for a German tourist who died of a suspected heart attack after she went on a hike in Victoria state's Otway Ranges with a friend in temperatures reaching 40 degrees.
A complete fire ban has been declared for New South Wales, meaning open fires are banned outside the home. - Sapa-dpa