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Family escapes Australian 'tornadoes of fire' by clinging to jetty for 3 hours

A grandfather in Tasmania recounts how he saved his five grandchildren by taking sheltering under a jetty in the sea for three hours as wildfires raged around them. ITV's Paul Davies reports.

As "tornadoes of fire" roared toward their home, the Holmes family fled and then jumped into the sea, clinging to a jetty for three hours to escape wildfires that have devastated Australia.

The blaze spread swiftly in the Tasmanian town of Dunalley, Tim Holmes said. "The next thing we knew everything was on fire, everywhere, all around us," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Holmes said he sent his wife Tammy and their five grandchildren -- who are aged between almost 2 and 11 --  to the jetty to seek refuge from the flames, which destroyed three homes owned by the family. "There was no other escape," he added.

Holmes sent a text message to his daughter, Bonnie Walker,  showing her children in the water.

"It's still quite an upsetting image," Walker told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "It's of all of my five children underneath the jetty, huddled up to neck deep sea water, which is cold. I knew that that would be a challenge to keep three non-swimmers above water and with only my mom, dad and our eldest daughter.

Read more on this story from Britain's ITV News

"I spent a lot of time with good friends and prayed like I never prayed before and I think those prayers have been answered."

Holmes recalled how the fire "raged for three hours" on the shore on Friday, surrounding the family with smoke. "Everything was on fire and it was just exploding all over the place," he added.

They managed to escape after Holmes recovered his dinghy. Walker was reunited with her children on Saturday.

Australia's record-breaking heatwave has sent temperatures soaring, melting road tar and setting off hundreds of wildfires - as well as searing new colors onto weather maps.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has added dark purple and magenta to its weather forecasting map to represent temperatures of 51 to 54 degrees Celsius (123.8 to 129.2 Fahrenheit), officials said.

PhotoBlog: Heat, high wind create 'catastrophic' fire condition in Australia

Temperatures on the map were previously capped at 50 degrees Celsius, represented by the color black.

Tim Holmes / AP

Tammy Holmes and her grandchildren take refuge under a jetty as a wildfire rages nearby in Dunalley, Australia, on Friday.

No deaths have been reported, although around 100 people haven't been accounted for since last week when a fire destroyed around 90 homes in Dunalley, which is located east of the state capital of Hobart. On Wednesday, police spokeswoman Lisa Stingel said it's likely most of those people simply haven't checked in with officials.

Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. Fires in February 2009 killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria state.

ITV News is NBC News' UK partner. Reuters contributed to this report.

Cooler temperatures are helping firefighters battle blazes across Australia but forecasters warn of hot temperatures coming this weekend. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.