Australia — Australian police have launched a hunt for arsonists wholit a fatal wildfire in Victoria, as authorities said 32 homes had been razed inthe inferno that has gripped the state for a fortnight.
The scorching winds that have swept the bushfires across drought-parched terraineased for the first time, allowing firefighters and homeowners to assess theextent of the damage.
Victoria’s Department of Environment and Sustainability said the fires haddestroyed 32 homes, up sharply from the previous estimate of 20 late Friday.
The fires have burned out more than 5,500 square kilometres (2,125 square miles)of bushland — an area more than twice the size of Luxembourg.
An additional 22 homes have burned down in the island state of Tasmania sincethe bushfire emergency flared up late last month.
The sole fatality so far is horse trainer Donald Dosser, 48, who died when hefell off a vehicle and was run over by a trailer as he helped fight fires atGippsland in Victoria’s south-east.
Police believe the fire he was battling, one of the most intense confrontingVictoria’s exhausted firefighters, was deliberately lit and sent arsoninvestigators to the area Saturday to quiz locals.
Acting Inspector Wayne Viney said two teenagers were seen on motorcycles nearthe area where the blaze started on Thursday before it advanced to destroy atleast 15 homes and indirectly claim Dosser’s life.
“(They’ve) put others’ lives in danger, the threat to houses, theinconvenience … it’s just ridiculous,” he said.
“This is a foolhardy act and one that has impacted upon thousands andthousands of people.”
Victorian Premier Stave Bracks said anyone caught lighting bushfires faced up to25 years in jail if found guilty of arson causing death.
“It’s appalling, absolutely appalling and of course there’ll beinvestigations,” Bracks said.
“To see that there are additional fires which allegedly have been lit byarsonists is just reprehensible and I can say the full force of the law will bebrought to bear.”
More than 4,000 firefighters in Victoria took advantage of Saturday’s coolerconditions to clear bush, creating containment lines they hope will pen in theraging flames before the weather worsens towards the end of next week.
With one firefront stretching more than 250 kilometres (155 miles), Victoria’sCountry Fire Authority (CFA) warned the emergency was not yet over.
“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.