Australian Bushfire toll reaches 173

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Canberra - Australian police confirmed on Tuesday that 173 people have died in the bushfires across the state of Victoria.

The toll had risen by seven early Tuesday morning with three more bodies found at the wiped-out town Marysville, taking the toll there to 15, and four more bodies at Strathewen where the toll there is now 30.

Firefighters will again have their hands full as southerly winds pick up in central, northeast and eastern Victoria with little rain in sight as 24 fires continue to rage, Victoria police said.

Meanwhile, police will pursue anyone who has deliberately lit fires that have ravaged Victoria, Chief Commissioner of Victoria state Christine Nixon said.

"These people have lit these fires on the worst day that Victoria could have had.

"We will pursue these people and anyone who has any information, or think there may have been something strange about particular fires, please contact us on Crime stoppers," she told the Nine Network on Tuesday.

The fires are Australia's worst natural disaster by far: worse than Ash Wednesday bushfire which killed 71 in 1983.

The Australian Parliament on Monday mourned the victims of the bushfire.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard's voice cracked with emotion as she moved a condolence motion for the victims in the Parliament.

"The 7th of February 2009 will now be remembered as one of the darkest days in Australia's peacetime history. A tragedy beyond belief, beyond precedent and really beyond words. It will be remembered as a day of tragedy, courage and sheer luck," she told the parliamentarians.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said anyone found to have deliberately lit the bushfires could be charged with murder.