Violent bushfires tearing through southeastern Australia have left close to 100 people dead and another 100 missing.
Thousands of firefighters are battling round the clock to combat the blazes, which are racing across the land like speeding trains.
Although bushfires are not uncommon in Australia, these are the worst in more than three decades.
“It was a firestorm, and it came to us from three sides,” said one resident of the small town of Marysville, near Melbourne, which has been virtually burnt to the ground.
“I wouldn’t have left without (my husband) and I thought he’d gone up there so I thought, well, this is how we end our life together,” said another woman who escaped the fire.
“If we had’ve been another five minutes we would not have made it because it was just so sudden it was a fireball that came down off the mountain,” her husband added.
Another resident described her escape: “We heard some poor girl down there screaming for help and we couldn’t do anything because we had to save ourselves.”
The fires have hit the whole of Australia’s densely-populated southeast, with the Melbourne area worst affected.
“(It’s) something I never want to feel again, horrendous, I’ve been in it not quite ten years and I have never ever experienced something like that,” said one firefighter.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has deployed the nation’s army to help firefighters in Australia’s second-most populous state of Victoria.
The devastation has brought back dark memories of the so-called “Ash Wednesday” fires of 1983 in which 75 people were killed.
Strong winds are expected to continue into next week with authorities warning the fires will keep burning for severals days.