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Forest fire jihad in Australia?

"Victoria bushfire inferno's path of destruction," from The Daily Telegraph, February 9 (thanks to all who sent this in):

VICTORIA remains under a shroud of smoke and grief today with thousands homeless and at least 134 people dead after the worst bushfires in Australia's history.

=========Daily Telegraph==========,22049,25026762-5001021,00.html

THE death toll in the Australian bushfires has risen to 173 overnight and 24 blazes remain out of control as the crisis enters its fourth day.

The state of Victoria is devastated after the worst natural disaster in the nation's history.

The death toll from the bushfires is certain to rise further as more remains are found in more than 700 burnt-out homes strewn through the 330,000ha so far razed.

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Most of the latest people confirmed dead were killed in the small towns of Strathewen and St Andrews, on Melbourne's bushy northeastern fringe.

There are now 22 people confirmed dead at St Andrews, a town with a population of about 1,500 people. Strathewen, with only 450 people prior to the bushfires, lost 26 residents to the inferno that swept through on Saturday.

Whole towns have been declared crime scenes, with fears many of the fires that broke out on Saturday and claimed so many lives were deliberately lit.

But police say they are closing in on an arsonist thought responsible for the deadly Churchill-Jeeralang fire in Gippsland and recent fires at nearby Boolarra.

Fire authorities fear the worst of the fires could take weeks to contain.

Specialist teams used in the aftermath of the Bali bombings have been recruited for the gruesome task of locating and identifying victims of the fires.

Meanwhile, Premier John Brumby has announced a royal commission to examine the state's emergency response and possibly review the longstanding "stay and defend or leave early" policy aimed at mitigating the risk of fatalities from bushfires.

The largest of the fires, known as the Kinglake Complex, has consumed 220,000ha of land and more than 550 homes and has killed 140 of the 166 confirmed victims - including those at St Andrews, Strathewen and nearby Kinglake.

Thirty-five people perished at Kinglake - the greatest single loss of life in these fires - when a ferocious wall of flame swept straight up the heavily timbered Great Dividing Range, taking all in its path.

It has cut a terrible swathe across Victoria's central highlands, from Wandong, south as far as St Andrews and east and north through Marysville, Taggerty and Flowerdale towards the upper Goulburn Valley.

Department of Sustainability and Environment spokeswoman Nina Cullen said residents in an area on Healesville's southeastern outskirts were under heavy ember attack from a 150ha fire at Mt Riddell, about 4km southeast of the town.

It was a similar situation at Toolangi, a few kilometres north, where a 50ha fire was bombarding the tiny mountain village with embers.

"There was a water outage for Healesville residents (late Monday evening) but that has since been rectified and water supply is back on," Ms Cullen told AAP.

"There hasn't been any reported losses at this point."

Both fires were being fanned by a strong southerly breeze.

The Beechworth blaze has burnt 30,000ha and continues to threaten the communities of Dederang, Gundowring, Gundowring Upper, Kergunyah South, Glenn Creek and Running Creek. Residents in those communities have been asked to enact their fire plans.

"At the Dederang area particularly during the day, the fire significantly escalated,"

"Work has occurred on the north side of that fire, and that activity has gone extremely well.

"There remains a few spot fires but the crews on the ground are working really hard and getting somewhere on that fire. The threat has now been downgraded," Ms Cullen said.

The deadly Churchill-Jeeralang fire in Gippsland, which has claimed 21 lives, was threatening the township of Won Wron and remains out of control but has been downgraded.

Police have confirmed that they believe the same man who lit the devastating Delburn Complex of fires around nearby Boolarra last month, destroying 29 houses and more than 6,000ha, is the same person responsible for the Churchill blaze.

It's expected police will on Tuesday release an image of a man sought for questioning over the fires.

"We'll soon be in a position to provide face images of people we believe responsible," Morwell Detective Sergeant Brett Kahan told The Age.

In a win for firefighters, the grass fire that has ravaged about 9,500ha near Redesdale, south of Bendigo, was contained by late Monday.

The weather may pose further problems for firefighters, particularly north of the divide.

Isolated showers are predicted on and south of the divide on Tuesday but it will remain dry in the north.

Moderate to fresh southwest to southerly winds are forecast, with very high to extreme fire danger in the north.

A fire weather warning is in place for the northern country and north central forecast districts, with humidity down to 14 per cent and winds up to 45km/h.

More than 240 firefighters from NSW, 95 from the ACT, 94 from Tasmania and 69 from South Australia have joined Victorian crews, along with disaster identification experts from around the nation.

A further 22 firefighters from Western Australia are expected to arrive in Melbourne on Tuesday.

"Hell and all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria in the past 24 hours," Australian prime minister Mr Rudd said during a visit to the fire-ravaged Yarra Valley.

"Many good people now lie dead. Many others lie injured.

"This is an appalling tragedy for Victoria but, because of that, it's an appalling tragedy for the nation."

"The nation grieves with Victoria tonight."

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Added: Feb-10-2009 
Tags: jihad, forest fire
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