Victoria Premier announces Royal Commission to probe bushfires
Melbourne, Feb. 9 (ANI): Victorian Premier John Brumby has announced there will be a Royal Commission into the weekend bushfires.
He made the announcement while touring bushfire-devastated areas today.
Government sources said it had not yet been decided who would chair the commission or when it would start.
One of the key issues to be considered by the inquiry will be Victoria's decades-old "stay and defend or leave early'' bushfire policy.
An emotional Brumby said the Royal Commission would look at all issues.
But he said it was important to remember that nothing could have prevented some of the weekend devastation.
"What broke over the state was like a tsunami,'' the Premier said after flying in to an emergency relief centre at Alexandra.
"It didn't matter how good people's fire plans were.
"When the wind changed - particularly around Kinglake - when it came back up the hill there was nothing that anybody could have done.
"It wouldn't have mattered if you had 1000 tankers there.''
Earlier today Premier John Brumby said Victoria may need to review its bushfire policy of "stay and defend or leave early" in light of the state's appalling weekend death toll of 108 at last count.
Brumby said the Government would this week initiate a full investigation into the fires and the lead-up to them.
He said the Government and authorities' long-standing approach of advising people to have a bushfire plan ready to either stay to defend their homes or leave well before the fire became a threat had in many cases not saved people at the weekend.
The death toll in Australia's worst ever bushfires has risen to 107 and, authorities expect it to go up to at least 230.
Fires were still burning out of control and putting towns at risk in the Beechworth and Yackandandah regions in the state's northeast, even as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has accused arsonists in Victoria of committing mass murder.
According to The Herald Sun, state emergency officials claimed that some of the fires were deliberately lit, and added that they had also received reports of people returning to relight blazes after fire crews had left an area.
At least 750 homes have been destroyed and 3733 people have registered with the Red Cross after evacuating their properties. The number left homeless is expected to be far higher, the Red Cross said.
It was confirmed that at least four children have died, but that figure would also be expected to rise as full details emerged.
A two-year-old girl was among 13 in intensive care in hospital. Twenty-two people with shocking burns were admitted to the Alfred hospital, the state's main trauma centre, where staff ran out of morphine trying to ease patients' pain.
Most of the damage was done by two massive fires - one that virtually wiped out towns northeast of Melbourne, including Kinglake and Marysville with a 100km front - and a second inferno that raced across Gippsland.
TV veteran Brian Naylor and his wife Moiree were among the dead. The pair died when the fire at Kinglake swept through their property.
Six victims were in one car trying to outrun the inferno which swept through Kinglake in minutes. A resident said the town was littered with burnt-out cars and he believed many contained bodies.
Weather conditions have eased since Saturday's firestorm, but firefighters were still battling 31 active blazes across the state as of 11.00 a.m. Local time, authorities said.
The communities of Stanley, Bruarong, Dederang, Gundowring, Gundowring Upper, Kancoona, Kancoona South, Coral Bank, Glenn Creek and Running Creek continue to remain under threat, they said.
Residents of Taggerty, Acheron, Snobs Creek and Eildon were also on alert. Some fires would take weeks to contain, authorities said, and it could also take weeks to formally identify some of those killed.
Other teams were working to clear debris from towns gutted over the weekend to allow those lucky enough to escape a chance to return to their properties.
Among the survivors, families sat in dazed disbelief, surrounded by mattresses, dogs and whatever meagre possessions they managed to gather as they fled the fires.
Some talked of friends who had lost children, brothers and sisters, kids who have lost best friends and of a woman who has not seen her husband since Saturday. They said they had no warning before daylight turned to night and their communities were enveloped in a wall of fire and smoke.
Teams of disaster victim identification experts were flying in from all over Australia. Extra fire crews were being sent from interstate. Rudd offered army troops to help firefighters control the fires. (ANI)