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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 08:42 GMT
Australians brace for new fire threat
Burnt-out houses in Canberra
Saturday's blaze was Canberra's worst natural disaster
Residents in south-eastern states are steeling themselves to resume battling wild fires which killed four people in the capital last weekend.

Emergency workers took advantage of cooler weather to build firebreaks before the predicted arrival of strong winds and temperatures forecast to hit 40C (104F) on Friday.

We will work on containment lines in preparation for what's going to be a fairly nasty day

Mike Leonard,
Victoria environment department
In Victoria, people in three mountain villages - including the historic gold-mining town of Beechworth - escaped harm when changing winds drove off fires headed for their homes.

In the capital, Canberra, public anger was growing against deliberate fire-setting as residents continued the clean-up from the weekend blazes that destroyed 530 homes.

Canberra police charged two men with arson and another with looting an evacuated home.

Neither of the alleged arsonists - aged 15 and 20 - were implicated in the raging fires that became the city's worst natural disaster.

Victim's funeral

Callers to radio talk shows railed against reports of callous opportunism amid the disorder of the fires.

Some talked of a thief said to have stolen a car filled with a family's most precious possessions as they were preparing to evacuate.

Elsewhere in Canberra, 100 mourners attended the funeral of Douglas Fraser, 61, the first of the four victims of the weekend's infernos.

In Tasmania, firefighters continued working to contain nine fires. Five homes were destroyed on the island on Tuesday.

In New South Wales, firefighters were tackling at least 68 fires.

In Kosciuszko National Park - about 450 kilometres (280 miles) south of Sydney - crews were still trying to put out fires which have already burnt out hundreds of hectares of land.

Fire teams in Victoria were trying to take advantage of the lull to help residents prepare to defend their homes if and when weather conditions worsen.

People were told to clear the area around their houses of all dry, dead vegetation and to gather extra water supplies.

Mike Leonard, a spokesman for the state's Department of Sustainability and Environment, said: "We will work on containment lines again today [Thursday] and tonight in preparation for what's going to be a fairly nasty day."


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