Sunday, February 8, 2009
Australia's Most Terrible Fires Killed 135...
WHITTLESEA, Australia – Police declared incinerated towns crime scenes Monday, and Australia's prime minister spoke of mass murder after investigators said arsonists may have set some of the country's worst wildfires in history. The death toll rose to 135. The scale of the carnage, growing daily, has shocked a nation that endures deadly firestorms every few years. There were no quick answers, but officials said panic and the freight-train speed of the firefront probably accounted for the unusually high toll.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, visibly upset during a television interview, reflected the country's disgust at the idea that arsonists may have set some of the 400 fires that devastated Victoria state, or helped them jump containment lines. "What do you say about anyone like that?" Rudd said. "There's no words to describe it, other than it's mass murder." The country's top law officer, Attorney General Robert McClelland, said that people found to have deliberately set fires could face murder charges. Murder can carry a life sentence.
More than one dozen fires still burned uncontrollably across the state, though conditions were much cooler than on Saturday, which saw record-high heat and winds of up to 60 mph (100 kph). At least 750 homes were destroyed on Saturday, the Victoria Country Fire Service said. Some 850 square miles (2,200 kilometers) of land were burned out.
Officials said both the tolls of human life and property would almost certainly rise as they reached deeper into the disaster zone, and forecasters said temperatures would rise again later in the week, posing a risk of further flare-ups. Police updated the death toll late Monday to 135.