Page last updated at 11:32 GMT, Sunday, 15 February 2009

Australia mourns for fire victims

Rudd attends memorial service

Memorial services have been held across Australia to mark one week since bush fires tore through the state of Victoria, killing at least 181 people.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd led emotional tributes in Wandong north of Melbourne.

About 4,000 firefighters are still battling nine blazes in Victoria, which are not thought to be life-threatening.

People from the most devastated areas have been allowed back to their towns for the first time, but officials say more than 7,000 people are homeless.

The fires swept through rural Victoria last weekend, burning out of control amid a sweltering heatwave and a long-term drought.

The towns of Kinglake and Marysville are thought to have been almost completely destroyed by the flames.

[Going back] makes you accept it happened - it's like burying the dead
Patricia Beggs
Marysville resident

Officials have stopped giving death tolls for individual towns, but it is feared as many as 100 of Marysville's 500-strong population were killed and 80% of the buildings were destroyed.

In an attempt to clarify the numbers of dead, a team of Indonesian experts who helped identify bodies after the Bali bombings and the 2005 tsunami has flown in.

And US firefighters have also been arriving in Victoria to join the ranks of Australian and New Zealand crews who are continuing to tackle nine fires.

Residents' grief

Mr Rudd renewed his promise to provide support for the communities ripped apart by the disaster.

"We rebuild, and we rebuild together," he told mourners in Wandong.

"And not just for tomorrow, and not just for next week, and not just for next month, but until this community is rebuilt completely."

His comments came the day after residents of Marysville returned to their destroyed village on an organised bus tour.

One resident, Patricia Beggs, said the town would have to live on in the memories of those who survived.

"To go back was so difficult, but it's also really important. It makes you accept it happened - it's like burying the dead."

As investigators try to piece together the causes of the fires, it has been reported that one group of Victoria residents is suing an electricity company whose powerlines they blame for causing one blaze.

And a 39-year-old man has been charged with arson causing death, for lighting a fire near Churchill in eastern Victoria state.

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