Page last updated at 08:55 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Australia battles fresh bushfires


Residents in Belgrave, Victoria, have been told to be ready to go quickly

Fresh bushfires are continuing to blaze in Victoria, southern Australia - with one outbreak threatening 300 properties close to the state capital, Melbourne.

Emergency services reported good progress in bringing it under control.

Many residents spent the night at relief centres, having chosen to flee their homes instead of defend them.

Higher temperatures and strong winds have created the worst conditions since 7 February or "Black Saturday", when more than 200 people lost their lives.

Emergency service workers say they are worried about the weather forecast for later in the week, and the likelihood of extreme fire conditions on Friday.


State officials have said that unless there is rain, the blazes will continue for a while yet.

Four major fires are still burning to the east and north-west of Melbourne, and officials warned that temperatures were expected to rise on Friday to over 90F (32C).

"It is important that people understand the events of Black Saturday are not over - the devastating fire season continues," said the state emergency services chief, Bruce Esplin.

He said that at least 2,029 homes - up from the previous tally of 1,800 - had been destroyed in the hundreds of fires that had burned in the past two weeks.

Meanwhile, a funeral has been held near Australia's capital, Canberra, for a firefighter who died last week while fighting the blazes in Victoria.

The country's biggest-ever arson investigation is continuing into the causes of the fires, some of which have been burning for weeks.

One man has already been charged with starting one of the blazes and police suspect arson in at least one other case.

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