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Australian Fires – Families Tell their stories – ITNNews

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ITNNews

Devastating. I am curious to see how the government will handle the arsons. This reminded me of the emotions evoked by 9/11 and the Tsunami in 2004.

Written by MiamiFoodie

February 10, 2009 at 2:37 am

Australia Wildfires – Deliberately Lit – 5,000 People Homeless

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Source: Al Jazeera

Death toll soars in Australia fires

Police suspect some of the fires which have swept across southern Australia were deliberately lit [AFP]
The death toll in the bushfires in southern Australia has risen to at least 171 people, as rescue workers moved into towns devastated by the fires.

Firefighters continued to battle more than 20 major blazes early on Tuesday as the state fire authority in Victoria warned of more possible flare-ups across the region.

Nina Cullen of the emergency co-ordination centre in Melbourne, told Al Jazeera: “Two areas are still under wind threat and the next couple of days will be quite critical in fighting those fires.”

Police suspect that some of the fires which razed rural towns near Melbourne, the country’s second biggest city, were deliberately lit.

Peter Mitchell from Seven News Australia told Al Jazeera the police are investigating the fire which left 5,000 people homeless in Kingslake and killed at least 33 people.
“That fire started in a pine plantation. It’s still not clear whether it was the work of an arsonist, but there’s a fire down the Gippsland the police think was deliberately lit and the hunt is on for that pyromaniac.”

Two people, including a teenage boy, have reportedly been arrested and charged with arson.

“Everybody’s gone. Everybody. Their houses are gone. They’re all dead in the houses there,” Christopher Harvey, a resident of Kingslake, said.

“There are animals dead all over the road,” he said.

Christine Nixon, Victoria police commissioner, told a news conference: “What we’ve seen, I think, is that people didn’t have enough time, in some cases.”

“We’re finding [bodies] on the side of roads, in cars that crashed.”

Anxious wait

Some of the fires eased on Monday but thousands of firefighters and soldiers continued to battle dozens of blazes across an area of about 3,000 sq km across the states of Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.

Mitchell said firefighters in the affected areas were facing difficulties tackling the blaze as swirling winds continued to spread the fire in different directions.

Residents so far unaffected by the fires were anxiously waiting to see if they would be hit by the devastating infernos.

“People are nervous, we are at the mercy of the weather,” James Lacey, a businessman from the town of Yackandandah, said.
Kevin Rudd, the country’s prime minister, said authorities expected the death toll to rise as firefighters and rescuers searched charred buildings and pulled the remains of dozens of people.

“This is of a level of horror that few of us anticipated. There are no words to describe it other than mass murder,” he told Australian television.

More than 750 houses have been destroyed and around 80 people taken to hospital with serious burns and injuries.

Many patients had burns to more than 30 per cent of their bodies and some injuries were worse than the Bali bombings in 2002, said one doctor at a hospital emergency department.

Arson investigated

Kieran Walshe, the police deputy commissioner for Victoria state, said the speed at which some of the fires took off indicated they might have been deliberately lit.

“Some of these fires have started in localities that could only be by hand, it could not be natural causes,” he said.

Mike Rann, the premier of South Australia state, said on Sunday at least 20 per cent of the fires in his state were started by arsonists and another 20 per cent were the result of “stupidity or negligence”.

“These people are terrorists within our nation, they are the enemy within and we have to be increasingly vigilant about them,” he said.

Arsonists were also relighting fires that had been brought under control, Steve Warrington, a deputy chief of firefighting operations, told local radio.

“While we often think it is spotting [embers spreading flames], we also know that there are people lighting fires deliberately.”

Victoria’s bushfires are the worst natural disaster in Australia in 110 years.

Written by MiamiFoodie

February 10, 2009 at 2:30 am

Posted in Australia

Australia Fires – Death Tole Climbs

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Wild Fires in AustraliaBy Meraiah Foley (source – International Herald Tribune)

SYDNEY: The police confirmed that at least one of the deadly wildfires that killed 173 people and left hundreds homeless over the weekend in the worst firestorm ever to strike Australia was set by arsonists, and established a special task force on Tuesday to hunt down the offenders.

Officials have set up crime scenes around huge tracts of land across the southern state of Victoria, where the fires leveled towns and razed at least 750 houses on Saturday, as forensic investigators picked through the charred wreckage. The police have warned that the death toll will continue to rise as more victims are pulled from the rubble.

The state police chief, Christine Nixon, told reporters on Tuesday that one of the fires, which killed at least 21 people in the eastern region of Gippsland, was deliberately lit, and said the police “believe there may be more.”

Nixon said the police were still investigating whether arsonists were responsible for Saturday’s most deadly blaze, a 60-mile-long fire front that killed several victims and destroyed hundreds of homes in the hills northeast of Melbourne.

Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd, said in an television interview on Monday that the arsonists were guilty of “mass murder.”

The wildfires tore through towns and homes northeast of Melbourne fanned by winds of more than 62 miles per hour and temperatures that reached 117 degrees. Wildfires have been burning across Victoria for weeks, but the record temperatures combined with the most severe drought in the country’s history have created what experts said were the worst fire conditions ever seen in Australia.

Thousands of firefighters continued to battle blazes in Victoria on Monday, and the premier of the state said he would review the emergency response to the fires, which destroyed several towns and at least 750 homes in the area of once tranquil mountain towns. Most of the damage in Victoria was wrought the 60-mile-long blaze that razed the village of Kinglake to the ground and destroyed several other small villages nearby.

Thomas Libreri, a home builder in Kinglake, said his first warning had been the roar of flames coming over a ridge toward his house.

“I heard the noise, and then I had about 20 seconds to react,” Libreri told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday. Most of the homes on his block were destroyed within minutes, he said. Libreri said he and a neighbor had grabbed a man who suffered severe burns and threw him into a swimming pool — then waited six hours for rescue teams to arrive.

Police tape encircled the wreckage of several houses in the tiny town of Strathewen, where 30 of the town’s 450 people were thought to have died in the blaze, according to a reporter from The Age newspaper who toured the site with a fire official.

Nixon said the process of removing and identifying the dead could take days because the police were treating each death as a potential homicide.

“This will take some time,” she told reporters on Monday. “It is a complex matter, and we must be accurate.”

Australians are no strangers to wildfires or bush fires. Every summer, thousands of fires burn across this hot, dry continent, and there are not enough firefighters to protect every home. Many in rural Australia know that it is only a matter of time before they, or someone they know, will face a stark choice: evacuate or stay and fight the fires.

Fire authorities across Australia advise residents who choose to defend their homes to stay indoors while the blaze passes through their area. Citing statistics from past fires, the agencies say that most people can survive a wildfire as long as they avoid direct contact with the searing temperatures and scalding gases that come with an advancing fire.

However, many of the residents caught up in the Victoria blazes had no time for an orderly escape, and some were killed when the houses they had taken shelter in collapsed.

Victoria’s premier, John Brumby, said the government would set up a commission to examine the emergency response and review the longstanding policy of advising residents to “stay and defend or leave early.”

“People will want to review that, examine that,” he told local radio on Monday. “There is no question that there were people who did everything right, put in place their fire plan and it wouldn’t matter, their house was just incinerated.”

The firestorms and heat in the south revived discussions in Australia of whether human-caused global warming was contributing to the continent’s climate woes of late — including recent prolonged drought in some places and severe flooding last week in Queensland, in the northeast.

Written by MiamiFoodie

February 10, 2009 at 2:01 am