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Australian Residents Finally Allowed to Return to Fire-Ravaged Marysville

Six weeks after fires devastated parts of southern Australia, residents of one of the worst-affected towns have finally been allowed to return home. Marysville was almost completely destroyed by the bushfires on Feb. 7 and has been sealed off ever since by the police, who have been searching for the charred remains of victims.

Forty-five people were killed when fires tore through the town of Marysville, 99 kilometers north-east of the Victorian state capital, Melbourne.

The picturesque town was a popular tourist destination, but the majority of its buildings were crushed by the onslaught of an unprecedented firestorm that advanced with such speed and ferocity and gave many residents little chance of survival.

For six weeks Marysville has been sealed off as investigators looked for signs of arson, while forensic teams had the gruesome task of searching for victims among the charred wreckage of homes, businesses and cars. Residents have finally be allowed to return.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe says the forensic investigations in Marysville are over. "It's in excess of 4,000 buildings and structures that we've searched in the last couple of weeks, so it's been a massive exercise to get that done," said Walshe. "We're comfortable now that we've located and recovered all human remains."

Marysville became a symbol for the destruction of the Feb. 7 bushfires, a once vibrant community reduced to dust.

Merrin Guest left Marysville to attend a party in Melbourne with her husband before the flames struck on that terrible Saturday. They have only just been allowed to return to what is left of their home. "It's just corrugated metal from the roof and a few chimneys, and that's all that was left of our place when we went in," said Guest. "It was completely flattened. I just had this huge sense of, 'oh, thank goodness we can now start to move forward'."

More than 200 people died in the disaster, which left 10,000 residents homeless in Australia's worst ever bushfire disaster.

A judicial inquiry is investigating the causes of the blazes and the responses of the emergency services. Many outbreaks in fire-prone southeast Australia are sparked by lightning, while criminologists estimate that half of all bushfires are started deliberately by arsonists.