Page last updated at 05:32 GMT, Saturday, 28 February 2009

Australia fires cooled by weather

Firefighters wait at staging area in Warburton, west of Melbourne. Photo: 27/02/09
Firefighters have been warned about worsening conditions next week

Cooler weather has brought brief relief for firefighters still battling bush fires in south-eastern Australia.

Four major blazes are continuing to rage in the state of Victoria, where 210 people were killed in a devastating firestorm on 7 February.

But officials warn that hot weather with strong winds will increase the fire threat early next week.

In a separate development, police say they believe one of the fires on Friday was started deliberately.

Some 50 firefighters were needed to control the blaze at Arthur's Seat - a popular tourist destination east of the state capital, Melbourne.

One man has already been charged in connection with one of the fires earlier this month in the Gippsland region, which killed more than 20 people.

Schools shut

Victoria officials said milder weather late on Friday had given firefighters much-needed reprieve.

"It provided us a good opportunity to keep building and strengthening containment lines in those existing fires," Lee Miezis, a spokesman from Australia's Department of Sustainability and Environment, said.

But he warned that the crews must prepare for dangerous weather forecast for next week.

"Tuesday is predicted to be very warm... with strong to gale-force north to north-westerly winds," he said.

Earlier, more than 200 schools were closed in Victoria as the government warned of an intensified fire risk.

Some residents have already chosen to leave their homes.

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