Arson blamed for deadly bushfire

Arsonblamed for deadly bushfire

15 December 2006

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Australia — Anarsonist is being blamed for the ferocious bushfire which killed a man anddestroyed several homes in eastern Victoria.

At least 15 homes were razed when the fire bore down on Gippsland towns and48-year-old Donald Dosser, of Longford, south of Sale, died while battlingflames at Seaton. He fell off a ute and was run over by a trailer followingbehind.

Police have launched an urgent appeal to track down two teenage boys seen atthe source of the deliberately lit Gippsland fire that began five kilometressouth of Erica on Thursday.

Acting Inspector Wayne Viney said two teenagers were seen on Coopers CreekRoad, just north of where the fire started.

Insp Viney said the person or people who lit the blaze had put many lives atrisk.

“This is a foolhardy act and one that has impacted upon thousands andthousands of people,” he said.

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) is warning residents in Gippsland and thestate’s north-east that they should not be under the illusion the danger wasover.

“There is still active fire – we shouldn’t by any stretch of theimagination think that the fire is extinguished,” CFA deputy chief officerGraham Fountain said.

The warning came as residents started to sift through their burnt out homes.In Toongabbie, a fireball tore through Lynda Rich and Alex Krstic’s home.

It was the second time fire has devastated the couple, with an electricalblaze destroying their rental property seven years ago.

“It just doesn’t seem real,” Ms Rich said.

“You don’t sort of think about it, you think about what to do next.

“We stayed right to the end.

“If it wasn’t for the wind it would still be standing. I have never seenwind like it. It was like being in the middle of a hurricane, and dark.”

Cowwarr publican Helen Hoppner watched terrified as thick smoke engulfed thetown, turning day into night, and said locals felt helpless.

“It was this hot, strong wind that would knock you over … it was likea battlezone, it really was, it was horrible,” she said.

“It was dark … overhead was just volumes of thick smoke, and when youlooked ahead it was just a red glow. It was scary.

“It was almost like the Vietnam war in the movies. There werehelicopters and noise and the smoke. It was like a battlefield and I felthelpless.”

In the state’s north-east, five homes were razed at Gaffney’s Creek and fourat the A1 Mine Settlement.

Families who have lost their homes are eligible for an immediate $900 stategovernment grant to assist with shelter, clothing and personal items. Asubsequent means-tested payment of up to $21,900 is available to families withlimited finances.

The federal government also offered payments of $1,000 for each eligibleadult and $400 for each eligible child, accessible via Centrelink.

Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) spokesman Duncan Pendrighsaid the inferno had charred more than 500,000 hectares of bushland, tearingthrough an area comparable to the size of metropolitan Melbourne.

“We have assessment teams going from farm to farm assessing all losesstarting this afternoon,” Mr Pendrigh said.

Prime Minister John Howard criticised national park authorities for trying toprotect parks by closing fire tracks and denying access to firefighters.

Mr Pendrigh said he was not aware of many complaints.

He said access to parks and forests was an ongoing issue and there must be abalance between providing access and protecting the environment from harmfulrainwater run-off from roads.

The CFA’s Mr Fountain said the cooler weather would provide fire crews with awindow of opportunity to activate containment strategies.

But temperatures are expected to rise and north-to-north-westerly winds toreturn early to mid next week.

He said residents should review their fire plans.

“They need to take advantage of the respite provided by the weather,review their (fire) plans – the bits that worked the bits that didn’t work – andremain ready for the remainder of a long, hot, dry summer.”

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