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June 23, 2017

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One dead, four missing as Australian fire razes residential neighborhoods

SYDNEY -- A man died and four other people were missing after a fast-moving wildfire destroyed at least 46 homes in western Australia's Perth, officials said Monday.

The blaze, thought to have been started by a fallen power line in the city's wooded outskirts on Sunday, was fanned by hot, strong gusts that saw 20-meter flames tear through residential streets.

"It has been confirmed that 46 homes have been lost," Western Australia state's fire and emergency services department said, warning that some 30 percent of the fire zone was yet to be assessed.

State fire commissioner Wayne Gregson said four people remained "unaccounted for" Monday, with fears they had fallen "victim to the fire."

"We will follow up until we find these persons," Gregson told reporters.

"We're working very hard with police."

Earlier, the ambulance service said a man, aged 62, had died after collapsing on the roof of his house as he prepared for the oncoming blaze.

Hundreds of residents fled their homes for evacuation centers and were anxiously awaiting news Monday. Some said they had only seconds to escape.

"We obviously knew that the fire was moving pretty quickly," Stoneville resident Aaron Miles told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"We just went for the important stuff — hard drive, documents. Everything else is technically replaceable if it comes to that."

Officials said the blaze had been contained but not controlled, and warned that there was still a risk to life and property if conditions shifted.

There were 275 firefighters still battling flames which had already burnt through 650 hectares.

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