Bushfire toll 171,two charged with arson

Weary firefighters and rescuers pulled the remains of dozens of people from charred buildings on Monday as the toll from Australia’s deadliest bushfires rose to 171....

Written by Reuters | Whittlesea | Published: February 10, 2009 12:54 am

Weary firefighters and rescuers pulled the remains of dozens of people from charred buildings on Monday as the toll from Australia’s deadliest bushfires rose to 171.

“Everybody’s gone. Everybody’s gone. Their houses are gone. They’re all dead in the houses there. Everybody’s dead,” cried survivor Christopher Harvey as he walked through the town of Kinglake.

A Victoria state police spokesman said on Monday the toll had risen to 171. He said the toll would almost certainly rise further.

Police believe some of the fires,which razed rural towns near Melbourne,were deliberately lit and declared one devastated town a crime scene. “There are no words to describe it other than mass murder,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said. “These numbers (of dead) are numbing.”

A man and a boy were charged with lighting fires on the outskirts of Sydney in two unrelated cases on Monday. A 31-year-old man accused of lighting a major blaze that burnt through about 200 hectares of bushland in Peats Ridge on the New South Wales central coast was due in court on Monday after spending the night in a jail cell. A 15-year-old boy who allegedly set off an explosive that started a small scrub fire in the Blue Mountains near Sydney on Sunday was released on bail after being charged and will appear in court next month. Neither of the fires killed anybody,but police suspect that arsonists were also behind some of the major fires in Victoria,where all of the fatalities occurred.

One massive bushfire tore through several towns in the southern state of Victoria on Saturday night,destroying everything in its path. Many people died in cars trying to flee and others were killed huddled in their homes,yet some escaped by jumping into swimming pools or farm reservoirs.

The inferno was as tall as a four-storey building at one stage and was sparking spot fires 40 km ahead of itself as the strong winds blew hot embers in its path. “It’s going to look like Hiroshima,I tell you. It’s going to look like a nuclear bomb. There are animals dead all over the road,” said Harvey. More than 750 houses were destroyed and 78 people,with serious injuries,are in hospital. Many patients had burns to more than 30 per cent of their bodies and some injuries were worse than the Bali bombings,said one doctor at a hospital.

Thousands of firefighters continued to battle the main fires and other blazes across Victoria on Monday.

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