TASMANIAN fire authorities have defended their choice of aircraft to fight the state's catastrophic south-east bushfire, while a much bigger helicopter stood idle on the mainland.
As the fires still burnt through the Tasman Peninsula on Sunday night, authorities warned that they held fears for a handful of people unaccounted for after the main fire passed.
The Tasmanian Fire Service's chief officer, Mike Brown, said it had been an option to use the heavy-lift Erickson Air-crane against the blaze that devastated Dunalley and nearby coastal hamlets on Friday.
Under national aerial fire-fighting arrangements, five of the Air-cranes are positioned on the mainland, each of them able to suck up nine tonnes of water in 40 seconds, and fly at 200 km/h.
The aircraft, such as Victoria's ''Elvis'' and ''Gypsy'', have become part of bushfire folklore.
The Victorian CFA confirmed that in Melbourne on Friday, a day when the south-east fires were already burning in Tasmania in what were officially described as catastrophic conditions, one Air-crane went unused in its Essendon hangar.
Mr Brown said the Air-Cranes, which were heavily funded by the Commonwealth, still required a contribution from Tasmania.
''So we've got to have here what's available in terms of being able to support as well,'' he said.
''The support we can provide to the medium helicopters gives us, we think, the best outcome.''
A spokeswoman for the federal Attorney-General's Department said moving the Air-crane also depended on moving refuelling capability.
Due to the nature of the aircraft, this was slower than moving smaller helicopters such as the Bell 212, she said.
More than 100 structures, many of them homes, have been lost in small communities, mainly around the Tasman Peninsula, but also near Bicheno on the east coast.
Acting Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard said searchers had scoured the burnt-out homes in the worst-hit towns of Dunalley, Boomer Bay and Bream Creek without finding any bodies, but the community still needed to brace for possible deaths.