Hellfire Heartache

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EIGHTY-FOUR people are confirmed dead in Victoria's bushfires, far surpassing the state's toll of 47 in the 1983 Ash Wednesday blazes. Among them are former Nine Network newsreader Brian Naylor and his wife, Moiree, at their Kinglake West property.

At least 640 homes have been destroyed, more than 300,000 hectares burnt out, and some fires may take weeks to contain as the blazes threaten to figure in history as the worst bushfires and deadliest natural disaster Australia has ever experienced. Entire towns have been wiped out and communities in Dederang, Taggerty and Glenburn in the state’s north were still under threat on Sunday night, almost 36 hours after the first fires were sparked by record heat and winds on Saturday.

“Hell and all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria in the last 24 hours,” Mr Rudd told reporters in 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.”

In an address to the state, Victorian Premier John Brumby said “out there it’s been hell on earth”. He defiantly declared Victoria would put its “communities back together” and “recover”. Authorities believe some of the blazes were deliberately lit and police say arsonists could face murder charges and a maximum 25 years in prison.

The toll already surpasses the 47 deaths in Victoria in the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires, and the Black Friday blaze in 1939 which claimed 71 lives and the overall death toll of 75 from the Ash Wednesday blazes. Ten people remain in a critical condition in hospital with serious burns.

The Kinglake region, about 80km north of Melbourne, has been the worst hit - 550 homes have been razed and 55 deaths had been reported in the area as of 6pm on Sunday as the furious 120,000-hectare inferno, known as the Kinglake Complex, gave locals little chance.

Touring the Yarra Valley firegrounds with the premier, Mr Rudd announced a joint federal-state $10 million emergency relief fund for the victims.

He said emergency Centrelink payments were available to those needing immediate financial assistance.

- with AAP

To view a live update map of the bushfires in Victoria click here

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