Deadly Australian bushfires flare

Deadly Australian bushfires flare

23 February 2009

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Australia — More Australian residents have been forced to flee their homes as renewed bushfires destroyed at least one house and injured three firefighters.

Strong winds and searing temperatures are said to be driving flames towards towns to the east and north-west of Victoria’s state capital, Melbourne.

The new threat came as the death toll from the fires which ravaged the state two weeks ago increased to 210.

Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter Princess Anne has toured the disaster zone.

The princess met firefighters and other emergency workers in the town of Wandong, a day after attending ceremonies marking a national day of mourning for the victims.

She also visited the bushfires’ Incident Emergency Control Centre in Melbourne.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Victoria Premier John Brumby announced that the clean-up costs of people in fire-hit regions – A$25,000 ($16,000; £11,000) each – would be taken care of.

“The clean-up task is absolutely crucial to getting on with the task of rebuilding,” said Mr Brumby.


The official death toll rose by one on Monday after a resident of Strathewen – one of the worst-hit areas where 43 perished – died in hospital.

Two firefighters have been injured with minor burns and another more seriously, and a house and two fire trucks were destroyed in fires in Victoria on Monday.

Temperatures have soared above 80F (30C) again with strong winds causing at least two fires to flare up, threatening to spread embers into new areas.

Reports say a property was destroyed in the Dandenong Ranges, east of Melbourne.

Country Fire Authority officials said Upwey, Tecoma and Belgrave on the eastern edge of Melbourne and Enoch Point, about 50 miles (80km) northeast, could be at risk.

More than 100 people in Enoch Point have been evacuated from their homes. “It’s a precaution in terms of getting people out early,” said local official Simon O’Callaghan.

Meanwhile, Australia’s biggest-ever arson investigation is continuing into the causes of the fires, some of which have been burning for weeks.

One man has already been charged with starting one of the blazes and police suspect arson in at least one other case.

‘United in grief’

Church bells rang out across Victoria on Sunday to mark the start of the national day of mourning.

At the main ceremony, a mourning service at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena, Australian dignitaries, fire survivors and rescue workers were joined by Princess Anne.

The prime minister said flags would be flown at half mast and a minute’s silence would be held each 7 February to remember those who had died in the fires.

Many of the 50,000 in the arena wore the distinctive yellow overalls of Australia’s firefighters and were bussed in from bushfire-stricken areas, having lost cars and homes to the flames.

People gathered there were handed tiny silver bells to remember the dead and yellow ribbons as a symbol of their resolve to rebuild destroyed communities.

The ceremony was broadcast across the country and thousands gathered elsewhere to watch.

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