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Smart home saviour: Man saves house from Australian bushfires with an app

As bushfires raged through South Australia, a man watched the flames approach his farm while he was 3,000km away, but not entirely helpless to act.

A remote control app helped save one home from the Pinery fire.
David Carnoy/CNET

This week saw bushfires ravage areas of South Australia, with two people killed, 90 more hospitalised and 87 homes destroyed.

In the carnage, which has included the loss of around 27,000 head of livestock, one tale of a remarkable survival has emerged, all thanks to a smart home-style remote control phone app.

Professor Simon Maddocks, vice chancellor at Charles Darwin University, was in Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory when he was alerted to the blaze in the neighbouring state. Know known as the Pinery Fire, the flames were approaching his property near Hamley Bridge in South Australia, a distance of some 3,000km (1,850 miles) from his Darwin location.

Maddocks was able to see the flames approaching using his home security cameras and, despite tweeting that he felt "helpless to act," he was able to activate his irrigation sprinklers using a smartphone app. While his crops were destroyed, the farmhouse and his animals escaped harm, something Maddocks attributes to both his remote controlled sprinklers and the swift action of his neighbours.

"The fire came up all around the house, but my ability to turn on irrigation systems from my phone in Darwin and the fact that I had neighbours patrolling with fire units, we're lucky we got away with a house," he told Australian public broadcaster, ABC.