Firefighters Contain Australia Wildfire

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Firefighters contained a wildfire that killed nine people and left three others missing, the nation's deadliest blaze in more than two decades, officials said Thursday.

The fire, which started Monday, has consumed about 358,300 acres of grass and farmland on South Australia state's Eyre Peninsula, about 250 miles west of Adelaide.

Country Fire Service spokeswoman Leanne Adams said 80 new firefighters arrived on the peninsula Thursday to relieve earlier crews. Their next task was to burn a 100-foot fire break around the 85-mile perimeter of the fire, she said.

``The fire is contained. There were no flare ups overnight,'' Adams said.

Eight of the victims - including two children aged 4 and 2 - burned to death in their cars as they tried to flee the blaze Tuesday and another woman was found dead in her home Wednesday, police spokeswoman Kylie Walsh said.

Three others were missing and feared dead, she said. ``It will be some time, perhaps days, before the identity of any of the deceased can be established.''

Fanned by strong winds and temperatures reaching 111 degrees, the fire raged out of control Tuesday. Local residents to fled to beaches or sought refuge in the sea. The inferno razed houses, shops, vehicles and boats.

Peninsula resident Russell Puckridge said he had only three minutes to vacate his home before it was enveloped by flames. ``I've been here nearly 15 years and this year we paid our house off, but she's gone, gone,'' he told ABC radio.

Prime Minister John Howard on Wednesday said the deaths were ``a terrible reminder of the ever-present threat of bushfires and their devastating effect on this country.''

A separate wildfire in Victoria burned through about 21,000 acres of public and private properties, destroying a house, a car, a shed and about 2,000 head of sheep.

The Eyre Peninsula blaze is the worst wildfire to hit Australia since the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983. That fire killed 75 people in South Australia and neighboring Victoria state.

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