Page last updated at 10:41 GMT, Monday, 23 March 2009

Marysville fire victims go home

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Marysville, Australia Feb 2009
Marysville was one of the worst-hit towns in Australia's bush fires

Six weeks after fires devastated parts of southern Australia, residents of one of the worst-affected towns have finally been allowed to go home.

Marysville was almost completely destroyed by bushfires on 7 February.

It has been sealed off ever since by the police, who have been searching for the remains of victims and investigating suspicions of arson.

Bushfires ripped through south-eastern Australia early this year, killing more than 200 people.

Forty-five people died when fires tore through Marysville, north-east of the Victorian state capital, Melbourne.

The destruction of the picturesque town became a symbol of the bushfire disaster, the worst in Australia's recent history.

Search for clues

For six weeks Marysville has been sealed off as investigators searched for signs of arson and more victims among the charred wreckage of homes, businesses and cars.

Victoria's Deputy Police Commissioner Kieran Walshe says the forensic work in Marysville is over.

It was a terrible shock to realise that everything we owned was in that small pile of rubble
Reverend Norman Hart

"It's in excess of 4,000 buildings and structures that we've searched in the last couple of weeks, so it's been a massive exercise to get that done," he said.

"We're comfortable now that we've located and recovered all human remains," he added.

The Reverend Norman Hart is the local parish priest in Marysville. He was made homeless in the fires, along with his wife and two children.

"It was a terrible shock to realise that everything we owned was in that small pile of rubble - a lifetime reduced to a pile of rubble," he told the BBC.

"People are pulling together. There's an amazing sense of 'we will go on and we will rebuild'. There's a sense of hope for the future."

He said it did not really matter whether the fires were arson or not - the devastation is real, he says, adding that the community is ready to move on.

Marysville resident Merrin Guest has been sifting through what remains of her home.

"It's just corrugated metal from the roof and a few chimneys and that's all that was left of our place when we went in. It was completely flattened," she said.

"I just had this huge sense of, 'Oh, thank goodness we can now start to move forward'," she said.

A judicial inquiry is examining the causes of the deadly fire outbreaks and the responses of the emergency services.

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