Australian forest fire toll rises above 200

Other News Materials 17 February 2009 15:44 (UTC +04:00)

An Australian firefighter was killed when a tree fell on his vehicle Tuesday, bringing the official death toll from the nation's biggest natural disaster to 201, dpa reported.

Fires were still burning north of Melbourne, where 3,500 volunteer firefighters backed by water-bombing aircraft were engaged in bringing the blazes under control.

The firefighter died near Marysville, where 100 people out of a population of 500 are believed to have perished in the February 7 conflagration.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe said the heat was so intense that some bodies might never be identified.

 "It's a very difficult process in some cases to actually be able to determine whether the remains are human remains or not," he said. "As to what the number's going to get to, I think we should await and let it unfold over the next week or 10 days."

One person has been charged with arson over the forest fires, some of which police said they believe were deliberately lit.

Brendan Sokaluk, 39, is to face trial in May over a fire in his hometown of Churchill that killed 21 people and burned 36,000 hectares.

More than 1,830 houses were razed and more than 7,500 people made homeless in the nation's worst forest fires.