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Australian bushfires: firefighter dies, observatory damaged (VIDEO)

Monday 14 Jan 2013 12:11 p.m.

By 3 News online staff

A firefighter has died while working to contain a blaze in Tasmania.

The man, from Victoria, was found after he missed a scheduled call-in around 4pm yesterday.

He had been working to identify containment lines for a fire in Taranna, east of Hobart.

His body was found 3km from the edge of the blaze, and Australian media are reporting that he died of natural causes.

Tasmania’s Emergency Services Minister David O'Byrne said the man's colleagues would grieve at the loss.

"This tragedy will come as an immense blow to those many people who have done so much to not just protect lives and property, but work so hard to make someone else's life just that little better in the aftermath of such destruction,'' he said.

The state’s Premier Lara Giddings also sent her condolences.

"I hope that his family can gain some comfort from the sincere gratitude we feel for his willingness to assist us during this bushfire crisis,” she said.

Blazes in the state’s south have burnt more than 24,000 hectares of land but milder temperatures over the weekend helped firefighters bring them under control.

Police were also able to reopen Arthur Highway, a major road through the state.

AUSTRALIA’S BIGGEST OBSERVATORY BURNED

More than 170 fires continue to burn across New South Wales, 50 of them uncontained.

One large fire in Warrumbungle National Park northwest of Sydney damaged part of the Siding Spring Observatory after a sudden change in wind.

Eighteen staff were forced to evacuate, along with nearby residents.

One local, Susan Armstrong, told the Sydney Morning Herald the fire “looked like an atom bomb”.

The New South Wales rural fire service says the observatory’s main telescope has survived.
Time lapse video posted on YouTube shows fire engulfing another telescope four kilometres away from the observatory.

Around 40 seconds into the video (sped up to six minutes per second), fire sweeps over webcams monitoring the Mopra radio telescope, before the cameras appear to cut out.

The full extent of the damage to the Siding Spring Observatory will not be known until later today, but the astronomer in charge said it should be limited.

Preventive work was carried out at Siding Spring after Canberra’s Mount Stromlo Observatory was destroyed by fire in 2003.

“There was a programme of undergrowth clearing,” Professor Fred Watson told ABC News.

“There was a programme of fitting ember screens to all the windows and all the buildings on the observatory, which means that you can't get embers penetrating into the buildings and setting fire from the inside, which is what happened at Stromlo.”

The fire is still burning and has destroyed 12 properties, but the rural fire service says the threat has eased slightly because of a drop in the wind.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology says some states could see temperatures flare up again around Thursday.

3 News

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