THE fear and desperation of one Australian family's escape from the horror of a wildfire has been captured in these dramatic images.

Tammy Holmes and her five grandchildren huddled beneath a jetty as flames roared about them, and the children's mother, Bonnie Walker, said she feared she had lost her family to the bush fire.

Her five children, aged from two to 11, were with her parents in Dunalley, a coastal town in Tasmania ravaged by fire, and Mrs Walker was cut off from her family as the fire spread.

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"We just waited by the phone and received a message at 3.30pm to say that mum and dad had evacuated, that they were surrounded by fire," she said.

"So I braced myself to lose my children and my parents."

Fortunately she did not, as Mrs Holmes's decision to shelter in water saved their lives.

Meanwhile, record temperatures seen across southern Australia in recent days cooled slightly yesterday, reducing the danger from scores of raging wildfires but only bringing a brief reprieve from the summer's extreme heat and fire risk.

Australia had its hottest day on record with a nationwide average of 40.33°C, narrowly breaking a 1972 record of 40.17°C.