Page last updated at 16:38 GMT, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

UK woman speaks of bushfire loss

Elizabeth and Rod Lies-Field
Elizabeth Lies-Field died in the fireball, but husband Rod survived

A British woman has spoken of the moment she discovered her sister had been killed in Australia's bushfires.

UK police told Helen Finch, from Leicester, to contact an Australian helpline from which she learned her sister, Elizabeth Lies-Field, had died.

Mrs Lies-Field's sons James, 14, and Matthew, 13, also perished when a fireball hit their home in Victoria.

"I thought it was a hoax, it is something I can't even take in," said Mrs Finch.

Rod Lies-Field, Elizabeth's husband, survived the explosion having gone to his car outside the family home.

Urgent message

Mr Lies-Field was blown on his back and suffered burns from the fireball's impact.

Having been told to contact the helpline, Mrs Finch had her call transferred a number of times until it was answered by Mr Lies-Field, lying in an Australian hospital bed.

"We got this urgent message to ring a number in Australia," Mrs Field told the BBC.

"I thought it was some kids playing around, but we rang the number and were put through to the hospital.

Mrs Finch says she wants to help her brother-in-law rebuild his life

"The first thing Rod says to me is, 'Elizabeth, James and Matthew are gone.' I said, 'What do you mean, gone?' He said, 'Gone in the fire.'

"It's my sister, but he's lost his wife, his children, his house - you can't imagine what they're going through.

"What must he be feeling just to lie there? Why did he get saved and the others allowed to go?"

Mrs Finch said she had not seen reports of the fires in Australia, and her first fear had been a car crash involving relatives.

However, Marysville, a small town to the north-east of Melbourne where her sister lived, had been at the centre of devastating wildfires, with all but one building gutted in the heat.

Beautiful forests

At least 173 people died and hundreds more were injured by the fires as they swept across Victoria state, while in many areas uncontrolled fires continue to burn.

Rescuers continue to search for victims as police begin the hunt for arsonists believed to be responsible for some of the fires.

Marysville itself has been sealed off by detectives as a possible crime scene.

Elizabeth Lies-Field emigrated to Australia 20 years ago to live with husband Rod, a trucker.

Her family from Britain, including her sister, had been to visit, but the Lies-Fields had moved into their new home in Marysville just weeks before the fires began.

They had established a guest house in the town, but had sent guests away from the area as the threat from wildfires grew.

Gutted home in Marysville
Almost every home in Marysville has been gutted by fire
"I visited about three years ago now, you walk around and it's beautiful forests," said Mrs Finch.

"It was a small rural community, but you look on the TV now and there's nothing left.

"It's thousands of miles away, but it's my family. When you get that news, you can't think straight. All I wanted to know was, did she suffer when she died?

"Rod said there was an explosion, and I was thinking of the relief, at least she's gone straight away.

"We've got to move on with our lives and help Rod rebuild his."

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