During A Brush Fire: To Stay Or Not To Stay

Rudd Pledges Early Warning System as Bushfires Burn

13 February 2009

published by www.bloomberg.com

Australia — Prime MinisterKevin Rudd promised a national early warning system for bushfires as Australia’s deadliest blazes on record continue to burn across the nation’s southeast.

“I’m determined to see this thing implemented across the nation” as soon as possible, Rudd said late yesterday during a telethon to raise funds for victims of the bushfires in Victoria state. “If it means cracking heads to ensure it happens, we’ll do that.”

The death toll from the fires stands at 181 and the coroner is prepared for as many as 300 bodies, according to Victorian Police CommissionerChristine Nixon. State and federal lawmakers are considering a warning system that would send alerts to mobile phones and landlines in the event of bushfires threatening populated areas.

As many as 100 of the 500 residents of Marysville, a town 60 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of the state capital, Melbourne, may have died, according to Nixon. Road blocks are set up around the town to prevent anyone except authorities from entering, as bodies are still being removed from buildings and burnt-out cars.

Red Cross Appeal

TheAustralian Red Cross has raised more than A$77 million ($50.5 million) for victims of the bushfire, helped by a live telethon yesterday. ActorsRussell Crowe,Orlando Bloom andNicole Kidman took calls from donors as the Nine network program raised A$20 million.

Two weeks of record hightemperatures, that reached 46.4 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) in Melbourne, and hot northerly gales across southeast Australia made conditions over the weekend worse than in February 1983, when 75 people in Victoria and neighboring South Australia died in what are known as the Ash Wednesday fires.

Milder weather has allowed authorities to build so-called containment lines to slow the progress of fires by bulldozing away scrub and forest.

Twenty-two fires are still burning and the fire threat remains “high to very high,” with only scattered rain showers expected in the next five days, theBureau of Meteorology said. The temperature is forecast to remain under 30 degrees Celsius.

More than 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres) of land has been destroyed, according to theCountry Fire Authority. The total damage of the blazes may be more than A$2 billion, Standard & Poor’s said this week.

The blazes have razed 1,000 houses, left 4,200 homeless and destroyed four major towns and dozens of hamlets.

Police believe some of the fires were deliberately lit, with the arson squad investigating almost 200 sites, CFA Chief Fire Officer Russell Rees said earlier this week.

A man was charged today with arson over the fires in the town of Churchill, southeast of Melbourne, that killed at least 21 people. He was charged with arson causing death, intentionally or recklessly lighting a bushfire and possessing child pornography, police said in astatement.

A suppression order prohibits the publication of his name or address, according to the statement.

People found guilty of arson can expect to be jailed for 25 years, the same penalty that applies to a murder conviction in Victoria, state PremierJohn Brumby said this week.

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