Monday, February 9, 2009

Australia Declares Bushfire Disaster a Crime Scene

By Mark Bendeich
Feb 10, 2009

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police treated the country's entire bushfire disaster zone as a crime scene on Tuesday as investigators combed through a blackened wasteland to find clues to the culprits behind the country's deadliest fires.

Arson investigators began their work even as about 25 fires still raged across southern Victoria, including some of the hardest-hit areas north of Melbourne where so far 173 people have been confirmed dead, many burned in cars and their own homes.

"All of the fires have been treated as a crime scene," a police spokesman said, adding that arson investigators from up and down the country were descending on the disaster zone. "We do believe they may have been lit deliberately, but we can't confirm it," the spokeswoman said.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has already branded the unknown culprits as "mass murderers" and Victoria state has ordered an official inquiry into the causes of the wild fires, which sent four-storeys-high sheets of flame racing through towns and farms.

Arson is often involved in Australian bushfires which break out every summer but rarely kill anywhere near half as many as the number of people killed in Victoria state's weekend infernos. ...


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