Page last updated at 22:29 GMT, Sunday, 8 February 2009

Queen's shock at bush fire deaths

Fire engine
Entire towns in Victoria have been destroyed by fire

The Queen has expressed her "shock and sadness" at the death toll in the Australian bush fires.

At least 108 people have died in the fires in southern Australia, the worst in the country's history.

She also expressed her admiration for the work of the emergency services to contain the situation.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has telephoned his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd to offer sympathy and assistance dealing with the bush fires.

In a statement issued by Buckingham Palace the Queen said: "I was shocked and saddened to learn of the terrible toll being exacted by the fires this weekend.

"I send my heartfelt condolences to the families of all those who have died and my deep sympathy to the many who have lost their homes in this disaster on so dreadful an occasion as this for Australia.

"The fire fighters and other emergency services have been making extraordinary efforts to contain the situation and tend to those who have been injured. Please also convey to them my renewed admiration for all that they are doing."

A Number 10 spokesman said the prime minister spoke to Kevin Rudd on Sunday morning to morning to extend sympathies to the Australian people.

A spokesman said: "He praised Kevin Rudd's leadership at this very difficult time, and said the UK stood ready to provide any assistance that the Australian government wanted."

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