New bushfire starts in Australia’s south-east

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Firefighters are battling a new blaze that has broken out in a pine plantation near the fire disaster zone at Mansfield, in the state of Victoria, in Australia’s south-east, five days after the bushfires began.

In other areas of the state, two major fire fronts are threatening to merge, which could affect water catchment areas and even Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs.

There is concern that a wind change could bring the fires together and 3,000 firefighters remain on the frontline battling the Maroondah-Yarra and Bunyip fires.

In the north-east of the state, thousands of families are homeless, living in tent cities near towns that have been reduced to rubble.

The death toll has reached 181, but is expected to exceed 200.

In the town of Marysville, 15 people have been confirmed dead, but Victoria’s Premier John Brumby says up to 100 of the town’s 500-strong population may have been killed.

People are again being blocked access to Kinglake, one of the worse hit areas.

Tents line the outskirts of the devastated areas as dozens of relief centres help clothe and feed the bushfire victims.

Investigation and policy

Victorian Premier John Brumby says forcing people to evacuate homes still threatened by fire is not an option, despite the loss of life at the weekend.

Mr Brumby says a Royal Commission will examine all aspects of the tragedy, including on whether to advise communities to leave orly or stay and defend their homes.

He says the current system will remain in place for the time being.

“If we were to have evacuated anybody at risk on the Saturday, on the basis of weather conditions, you’re probably looking at half a million Victorians who would have been evacuated out of their homes and the fact is you can’t cater for an evacuation of half a million people,” he said.

Emergency services were stretched during the crisis.

Its been revealed at the height of the fires, the emergency services phone number was overwhelmed and many callers could not get through.

Hundreds of calls to the emegency hotline were on hold for several minutes and many went unanswered.

Generous giving

The Red Cross says it’s been overwhelmed by the generosity of Australians donating to its Victorian Bushfire appeal.

More than $A40 million has been raised for the Victorian Bushfire Appeal.

The Chief Executive of the Australian Red Cross, Robert Tickner says the community is showing great generosity.

“Australians from all walks of life, from cities and the bush are coming together on this and it just exemplifies this power of humanity that underpins Red Cross beliefs,” said Mr Tickner.

Australia’s cricket team made a visit to affected areas, to show their support.

Many people living in tent cities in Victoria have no idea where they’ll go next or when they may be able to return to their former communities.

Mary Keneally, who lived in the fire-ravaged town of Marysville, says pressure will be kept on authorities to help them re-build their lost homes.

“We’ve been promised by the prime minister yesteday that he will rebuild Marysville,” she said.

“By God, we’ll hold him to that.”

UN message

Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has joined other world leaders in expressing his condolences to the families and friends of the 181 people known to have died in Australia’s bushfires at the weekend.

Mr Ban says he is deeply saddened by the deaths and the injuries of hundreds of Australians in the fires, which also left thousands of people homeless.