Over 200 Confirmed Dead in Australia Fires

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - The confirmed death toll from
Australia's deadly wildfires reached the grim milestone of 200
Tuesday, and a police official said some bodies reduced to ash in
the inferno would never be identified.

Investigators confirmed 11 more people had died in one of more
than 400 fires that raged across southern Victoria state on Feb. 7,
destroying more than 1,800 homes and scorching more than 1,500
square miles (3,900 square kilometers) of farms, forests and towns.

In a statement, Victoria police said the newest confirmed deaths
occurred in a fire that razed the town of Kinglake and surrounding
areas. Police spokesman Marty Beveridge said the death count would
go higher as more remains are identified.

The sobering news came as a senior police commander said some of
the victims of the deadly blazes will likely never be identified
because the fires were so intense their bodies were cremated.

Ten days after the disaster, police say they have not been able
to give a definitive death toll because of the difficulty in
finding and identifying remains.

In some cases, all that is left of the victims is ash, police
Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe told The Associated Press.

"Fire does terrible damage to bodies and the identification
process is going to be a lengthy process and it's going to require
scientific examination," Walshe said. "In some cases it will be
within a few weeks ... in other cases it may well be we're unable
to be definitive about the identity."

Where there is only ash, victim identification crews rely on
other clues like jewelry found in the ruins to help attach names to
the remains, Walshe said.

He declined to say how many bodies may still be in the disaster
zone. He said police believed they had cleared all bodies from
burned open areas, and were now sifting through ruined homes.

Waves of fire raged across more than 1,500 square miles (3,900
square kilometers) on Feb. 7 as extremely hot, dry and windy
conditions drove infernos through forests, farms and towns. More
than 1,800 homes were destroyed, entire towns razed and some 7,500
people displaced.

Police suspect at least two of the fires were deliberately set,
and have charged one man with arson causing death and lighting a
wildfire. Brendan Sokaluk, 39, faces a maximum sentence of 25 years
on the first charge and 15 years on the second. He is being held in
protective custody to prevent revenge attacks against him.

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