Canberra — Australians are responding to the bush fires that swept the southern section of their country last week with financial aid, food, clothing, and shelter materials for fire victims.
Fire chiefs say the blazes, which killed at least 71 persons and destroyed more than $250 million in property, are now under control, reports Monitor contributor David Solomon.
In Canberra, the nation's capital, a 24-hour appeal on radio and television stations raised more than $400,000 for fire victims. Aid organizations in Melbourne, close to the scene of some of the fires, have been swamped by residents bearing food, clothing, and other necessities. The fires - devastating areas near Adelaide in South Australia, the western districts of Victoria, and near Melbourne - are the country's worst natural disaster since a cyclone nearly destroyed the city of Darwin in 1974.
The fires, which started Feb. 16 in grasslands parched by years of drought, were inflamed by gale-force winds and raced across Victoria and South Australia. At least 3,000 homes were gutted in the two states and more than 300,000 sheep and cattle perished. Among the human victims were a dozen volunteer firefighters , caught by a wind shift near their vehicles; 10,000 persons have been left homeless.
One Australian, John Jackel, was arrested for arson in connection with fires at Frankston, about 25 miles south of Melbourne. He was released on bail Monday. Police made several arrests of people believed to have been responsible for starting several of the fires.