Arsonists Blamed For Oz Wildfires

Arsonists Blamed For Oz Wildfires

2 February 2009

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Australia — The houses burned in the farming region of Gippsland inVictoria on Friday night and Saturday, as the emergency reached its peak.

Victoria state Premier John Brumby has vowed to be tough on arsonists, who face up to 25 years in prison if convicted of lighting a fire that kills someone.

Dozens of farm sheds as well as cars and other equipment were destroyed in the blazes.

The biggest fire burned more than 15,814 acres (6,400 hectares) of farm and forest land before being contained.

Police fire controller Ben Rankin said “all indications are that it was deliberately lit.”

However, cooler weather and even some rain, has helped hundreds of firefighters in Victoria get on top of the blazes.

Temperatures in Victoria dropped below 104F (40C) for the first time in almost a week, but still remained very warm.

Neighbouring South Australia state is also experiencing its longest run of hotter-than-104F (40C) days on record.

Authorities said the heat has probably caused some of the 22 recent deaths in the state.

Meanwhile, a new report has found half of all bushfires are deliberately lit.

The Australian Institute of Criminology says the damage bill from arson is about $1.6bn (£788m) per year.

It says there are inconsistencies in how fire agencies throughoutAustralia record data and getting a consistent figure about deliberately lit bushfires is difficult.

It makes several recommendations including better education campaigns in the community and schools.

It also wants areas vulnerable to bushfires be protected by restricted access and other means.

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