Page last updated at 07:43 GMT, Monday, 6 July 2009 08:43 UK

Twitter to give bushfire alerts

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Ruins of a fire-hit home in Mudgeegonga, Victoria, Australia, 10 February 2009
February's bushfires struck some towns with little warning

Australia is to use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to give people early warning of bushfires.

Residents of towns in Victoria state have said they had little or no warning of the devastating blazes that killed 173 people in February.

The usual advice for homeowners to stay and defend their properties or to seek refuge elsewhere will be revised to put far more emphasis on leaving early.

To help people decide, officials want to speed the flow of information.

Victorian state premier John Brumby says social networking sites on the internet will help to improve advice to households.

"We'll be providing more information to the community, like Twitter and Facebook - alternative means of communication to get the information out to the public," Mr Brumby said.

"So that they've got better information from a variety of sources and if they need to make a judgement to go early, they will go and they will go early," he added.

Deadly speed

Many victims of February's bushfires were killed trying to defend their homes against some of the most ferocious blazes Australia has ever seen.

Others were engulfed as they tried to flee, tragically ambushed by the sheer speed of the fires' advance.

A judicial inquiry into the causes of the disaster and the responses of the emergency services is due to hand down its interim findings next month.

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