MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Police believe they have found the
bodies of almost everyone killed in Australia's wildfire disaster
and the current death toll of 201 is not likely to rise
dramatically, a senior commander said Wednesday.
Police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe said the tally from the
fires that swept Victoria state on Feb. 7 may still grow as
investigators examine the remains already found and possibly find
more bodies of people not reported as missing to authorities.
"We believe that we're at a point now where we have located
remains of the people that we knew or believed were unaccounted
for," Walshe told The Associated Press. "While we still believe
that the toll may continue to rise, we do not believe we will have
the significant rise that we thought."
Police planned to continue searching the rubble in the
devastated village of Marysville for at least another week, Walshe
said. Less extensive searches were still under way in other areas
as well, he said.
Identifying the remains of the victims from blazes that
destroyed more than 1,800 homes and scorched more than 1,500 square miles (3,900 square kilometers) of Victoria is a complex process, State Coroner Jennifer Coate said, adding that it would likely be several months before the bodies could be released for burial.
"Each individual life that has been lost, is, and will continue
to be, treated with the utmost respect," Coate said.
On Tuesday, authorities said they had found the remains of 11
more people near the razed town of Kinglake and surrounding areas,
bringing the official death toll to 200. On Tuesday night, that
number rose to 201 after firefighter David Balfour was killed when
a large tree branch fell on him as he connected a hose to his fire
truck in the Yarra Ranges National Park, a region hit hard by the
The current death toll already makes the disaster one of the
world's deadliest involving wildfires in modern times.
Jon Stanhope, chief minister of the Australian Capital
Territory, where Balfour lived, praised the firefighter for his
efforts, saying his decision to fight fires in another part of
Australia was "a mark of genuine bravery and selflessness."
Preparations for a national day of mourning on Sunday for the
victims continued, with a memorial service planned for a large
arena in Melbourne. Smaller events were also scheduled throughout
the devastated region.
Fire crews continued to fight to protect Melbourne's water
supply, with water officials expressing relief that the worst
danger to reservoirs serving Australia's largest city appeared to
Two of the city's largest water catchment areas were untouched
by the flames, with damage limited to just 20 percent of the areas
that capture water for Melbourne's nine reservoirs, said John
Woodland, manager of water supply operations at Melbourne Water.
"As it stands, we're confident Melburnians won't experience any
impact on water supply as a result of fires in catchments,"
Woodland said in an e-mail.
Still, Melbourne Water continued to transfer water away from
wildfire-affected areas to other reservoirs in the city's network
as a precaution, Woodland said.
Less clear is the long-term impact the fires will have on the
city's water supply. Forests in some catchments were scorched in
the deadly blazes, and new trees that spring up in their place will
suck more water from the earth, which reduces the amount of runoff
into the reservoirs, Woodland said.
"We will know more what this impact might be once it's safe to
re-enter the affected catchments and see what condition they are
in," he said.