Page last updated at 22:29 GMT, Thursday, 12 February 2009

Australia to rethink fire policy

Debris in Kinglake, Australia

The Australian government has said it will remove bureaucratic hurdles that have prevented the creation of a nationwide fire alert system.

It is thought that such a system could have saved lives at the weekend, when bushfires tore through the state of Victoria, killing at least 181 people.

Meanwhile, more than 150 actors, sports stars, politicians and musicians have taken part in a fundraising telethon.

The fires injured some 500 people, and left nearly 5,000 people homeless.

Some of Australia's biggest stars involved in the national televised event included actors Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman, Olympian Cathy Freeman and cricketer Shane Warne.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced a day of national mourning - the exact date has yet to be decided.

He said there would be a memorial service to remember the victims of the bushfires.


Privacy laws and arguments over funding have been obstacles in the way of a nationwide telephone fire alert system - but the federal government has indicated that it will move quickly to create one.

Such a system may have saved lives by sending text messages to mobile phones urging residents to flee.

Police now believe that arsonists were responsible for at least two of the deadly fires.

A photo fit of a man wanted for questioning over Thursday's fire in Ivanhoe
Police released a photo fit of a man wanted over a fire in Ivanhoe
Victoria Police Commissioner Christine Nixon said a fire in Churchill - about 90 miles (140km) south-east of Melbourne - which killed at least 21 people, was deliberately started.

She added that it was possible a devastating blaze that killed at least 15 people in the town of Marysville was the work of arsonists.

Police would charge anyone suspected of starting one of the fatal bushfires with murder by arson, which carries a maximum 25-year jail penalty, she said.

Mr Rudd has described the bushfires as "mass murder", and pledged to rebuild damaged communities, with no limit on federal spending.

Police also released a photo fit of a man wanted for questioning over a suspicious fire that started on Thursday in the Melbourne suburb of Ivanhoe. The fire was later brought under control.

Meanwhile, two men questioned earlier on Thursday in connection with allegations of looting in a fire-hit area were released without charge, according to local media reports quoting police.

Difficult identification

Despite cooler weather on Thursday, firefighters were continuing to battle several blazes.

Wrecked properties in Marysville

With bodies still being retrieved from some charred towns, police have barred some residents from returning to their homes, saying the scenes would be too gruesome to bear.

Marysville - a town that was virtually wiped out - remains cordoned off.

Investigators were still scouring the town where 80% of buildings were destroyed, and they had not been able to identify and remove all bodies, State Premier John Brumby said.

Up to 100 of the town's 500 residents are thought to have been killed, and Mr Brumby said he thought the final death toll would top 200.

The fires razed 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres) of land.


Have you ever visited Marysville or Kinglake? Do you have pictures of your visits?

Send your pictures to, text them to +44 7725 100 100 or you have a large file you can upload here

Read the terms and conditions

At no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws.

Send your comments using the post form below.

In most cases a selection of your comments will be published, displaying your name and location unless you state otherwise in the box below.

Your E-mail address
Town & Country
Phone number (optional):

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific