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Arsonists Blamed for 'Mass Murder' in Australia


At least 140 people have died in Australia's worst-ever bushfire disaster. Arsonists, who are thought to have been responsible for some of the devastating outbreaks in the southern state, Victoria, have been accused of mass murder by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Queen Elizabeth has sent a message of condolence to families of the victims.

Cooler weather is helping the emergency effort, as about 30 fires continue to torment communities across Victoria.

However, there is a warning that dangerous days still lie ahead.

Victoria County Fire chief Stewart Kreltszheim says the military will provide much-needed support...

"We've also got the army moving in today and the army are going to provide us with some grunt [muscle-power], with some bulldozers and our tractors," he said.

Towering walls of flame, several storeys high, have destroyed entire communities, reduced to barely more than piles of ash. To add to the loss of life, homes, churches, supermarkets and police stations have been obliterated.

Dozens of people are still missing. Survivor Wade Horton describes terrifying ordeal as the flames raced towards him...

"The smoke was coming over all day, but from what we could tell it was miles away and then walked up the front and I saw it hit the top of the mountain and within a minute it was down to the bottom of the valley and that whole valley across the other side was a wall of fire,' he said.

New Zealand has offered to send fire fighters to relieve exhausted crews in Victoria.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth, who is Australia's head of state, has sent a message of condolence to families of the victims and has also praised the extraordinary efforts of firefighters. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has spoken to his Australian counterpart, Kevin Rudd, and says that his government is ready to help, if needed.

Mr. Rudd says that arsonists suspected of starting some of Victoria's fires are guilty of "mass murder."

As the Australian army joins the search for those missing in the fires, investigators have grave concerns about what they might find in the charred remains of homes and cars.

It has been an excruciating wait for survivors, desperate for news of relatives and friends they have not been able to contact. Doctors treating burns victims have said that some have been so badly injured they will probably die, as Australia continues to count the heartbreaking cost of its most savage bushfire disaster.

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