Bushfire toll may cross 200

Australian police combed through a blackened landscape searching for clues in the hunt for possible arsonists on Tuesday as the death toll from the nation’s worst bushfire looked likely to top 200....

Written by Reuters | Sydney | Published: February 11, 2009 1:26 am

Australian police combed through a blackened landscape searching for clues in the hunt for possible arsonists on Tuesday as the death toll from the nation’s worst bushfire looked likely to top 200.

Victoria Police Commissioner Christine Nixon launched the nation’s biggest arson investigation,“Operation Phoenix,” vowing to catch anyone who started a blaze.

The bushfire which swept through Victoria Saturday night were “suspicious” as there were no natural events like lightning which would have sparked it,police said. Authorities said anyone found guilty could face manslaughter or murder charges. “The laws of the state provide that they can be put away and put away for life,” said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. “My view is they should be allowed to rot in jail.”

The disaster area,more than twice the size of London and encompassing more than 20 towns,has been declared a crime zone. About 25 fires were still burning in Victoria on Tuesday.

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