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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2006, 09:12 GMT
Canberra aid for bushfire victims
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Melbourne blanketed by thick smoke from bush fires on 13 December 2006
Thick smoke from the bush fires has blanketed Melbourne
Australia's government has announced emergency payments to victims of the country's bush fires that continue to burn out of control.

Firefighters in the southern state of Tasmania have been stretched to the limit as the outbreaks intensify.

Fires have destroyed vast areas of forest and farmland along with several homes across four Australian states.

Flames have torn through inaccessible areas, making some fires impossible to contain.

The fires are also threatening several small towns and villages.

In Tasmania, emergency crews - many of which are volunteers - are struggling to cope.

Arson charges

Conditions over the next 24 hours are expected to be even more hostile, with high temperatures and strong winds.

Residents in the state of Victoria are preparing for the onslaught of a large fire front.

map

The federal government has announced financial relief to farmers and small businesses.

Grants worth several thousand dollars will be available to those who have seen their livelihoods ruined by the bush fires.

Prime Minister John Howard said parts of the country faced a long, hot summer as the fires continue to rage.

Many are caused by lightning, while others are started deliberately.

A 58-year-old man has been charged with arson by police in Western Australia.

So far few injuries have been reported, although the authorities across this arid continent are warning that the worst may still be to come.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Aerial shots of the raging bush fires



SEE ALSO
Homes hit by Australia bush fires
12 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Winds fan Australian bush fires
10 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Smoke blankets Australian state
09 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific

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