More Than 100 People Flee New Australian Bushfires

More Than 100 People Flee New Australian Bushfires

24 February 2009

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Australia — More than 100 people evacuated their homes in southern Australia’s Victoria state on Monday when new bushfires threatened communities, two weeks after the nation’s worst fire disaster killed more than 200 people.

Authorities raised the death toll from the February 7 firestorm by one to 210. Those fires destroyed several small communities and about 1,800 houses, leaving about 7,000 Victorians homeless.

Police said a person died in hospital over the weekend from injuries suffered in the February 7 fires.

Firefighters in Victoria were battling three major fires on Monday. Authorities warned several communities could be at risk due to strong winds, dry conditions and rising temperatures.

More than 100 people from Warburton, east of the Victorian capital Melbourne, set up camp at a nearby sports ground to wait for the fire danger to pass, with officials warning people to put their emergency plans into action.

Under a “stay or go” bushfire policy, people were urged to either leave their homes early and possibly stay away for several days, or be prepared to stay and defend their homes until the fire danger passes.

“If you see flames, it is too late to leave,” Victoria’s Department of Sustainability and Environment said on Monday.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the national and state governments would pick up the cost of demolishing and clearing rubble from about 2,000 houses and businesses destroyed by the fires on February 7, which has come to be known as “Black Saturday.”

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the government would also introduce new telecommunications laws to parliament to allow state authorities to set up early warning systems using telephone and text messages.

Many survivors of the February 7 bushfires complained they were given no warning of the deadly firestorms, which were driven by hot winds and record high summer temperatures in Victoria.

Australians observed a day of mourning on Sunday, with thousands attending solemn ceremonies across the country.

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