Melbourne, Feb.8 (ANI): Wildfires raging through south eastern Australia have so far claimed 49 lives, and was set to mount in a disaster that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described as "hell in all its fury."
Many people apparently died in their cars as they attempted to escape the fires, some of which were deliberately lit, Victoria state Police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald, as saying.
Most of those killed were caught up in an inferno northwest of Melbourne, where entire townships have been razed in the firestorm that continued to burn out of control Sunday.
"Hell in all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria in the last 24 hours," Rudd told reporters after authorising the deployment of army units to help 3,000 firefighters battling to control the flames.
Fanned by high winds amid a once-in-a-century heat wave that sent temperatures soaring to 46 degrees Celsius (115 Fahrenheit) Saturday, the fires destroyed hundreds of homes as they ripped through rural Victoria.
Rescue services were also fighting huge blazes in north New South Wales.
At least two children are among the 49 confirmed dead,which has climbed from 14 overnight.
Melbourne's Alfred Hospital has admitted 20 people suffering serious burns.
The deadliest bushfires in Australia's history killed 75 people in Victoria and in neighboring South Australia in 1983.
But officials said current conditions were even worse, with the ground tinder-dry after a prolonged drought.
Victoria state's Country Fire Authority said only one building was left standing in the popular tourist hamlet of Marysville, although there were no fatalities among the residents.
Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said whole towns would need to be rebuilt and the federal government was preparing a massive disaster relief effort. (ANI)