Mon, Feb 02, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Fires sweep Australian bush as heatwave sizzles

AFP , SYDNEY

Australian police said yesterday they were hunting arsonists believed to have sparked a wildfire that destroyed at least 29 homes as a blistering heatwave claimed dozens of lives.

The blaze “is being treated as a suspicious fire and investigators believe it was deliberately lit,” police in southeastern Victoria state said.

“The fire has destroyed homes, property and livestock in the Yinnar, Boolarra, Mirboo North and surrounding areas,” a statement said.

Firefighters were bringing the inferno under control yesterday after it swept for days through bushland as dry as tinder, but the worst heatwave in a century still posed a threat, officials said.

“This is not over yet,” Victorian Premier John Brumby told reporters at a firefighters’ staging area in the Gippsland town of Churchill.

Another six fires broke out overnight on Saturday and yesterday. While lightning was believed to be the cause of four of them, arson was suspected in the other two, authorities reported.

The government’s Australian Institute of Criminology released a report yesterday which said half of the nation’s 20,000 to 30,000 bushfires each year are deliberately lit.

Temperatures in Victoria topped 43°C for a record-breaking third consecutive day on Friday, but dropped from their sizzling peaks to about 30°C yesterday.

In Adelaide, at least 35 suspected heat-related deaths were reported after the city sweltered under almost a week of temperatures above 40°C, including a maximum of 45.7°C on Wednesday.

Homeless people, and those who have homes without fans or air-conditioning, have been offered refuge in an air-conditioned city bus depot.

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