Deadliest-ever Australian wildfires kill 128
The deadliest wildfires in Australia’s history burned people in their homes and cars and wiped out entire towns, officials discovered Sunday as they reached farther into the fire zone. The death toll rose to 128 by Monday.
Blazes have been burning for weeks in the southeastern state of Victoria but turned deadly Saturday when searing temperatures and wind blasts created a firestorm that swept across a swath of the region. A long-running drought in the south — the worst in a century — had left forests extra dry and Saturday’s fire conditions were said to be the worst ever in Australia.
Police declared crime scenes Monday in the towns destroyed by wildfire; officials suspect some of the more than 400 fires were deliberately set.
Police have sealed off at least two towns — Marysville and Kinglake — where dozens of deaths occurred — setting up roadside checkpoints and controlling access to the area.
Victoria Police Commissioner Christine Nixon said specialist fire investigators were on the ground at one fire site, in Churchill, east of Melbourne, and would go to others.
Kinglake is “where the most deaths are, but wherever a death has occurred we investigate that as a crime,” Nixon told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.