8 Feb 2009

Bush fire toll climbs

12:48 pm on 8 February 2009

At least 25 people have died in Australia's worst bushfires since Ash Wednesday 1983 and the death toll is expected to rise.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe told the Nine Network on Sunday that "we believe the numbers will rise as we get further into the fire zones."

The toll is expected to pass 40.

Eighteen people are in hospital in Melbourne with burns - three are critically injured.

The first 14 bodies were discovered in towns northwest of Melbourne: six at Kinglake, four at Wandong, three at Strathewen and one in Clonbinane.

The ABC reports more bodies have been found at Humevale, Bendigo and Arthurs Creek.

Many of the victims are thought to have died in their vehicles.

The ABC reports the town of Marysville in central Victoria has been almost completely destroyed by the bushfires.

Mr Walshe said he feared the toll would be "substantially higher" as the day goes on.

Mr Walshe said earlier that a more thorough search of burnt-out properties would be undertaken on Sunday in cooler conditions when the fire is under control.

Senior Constable Wayne Wilson told ABC Radio that clarification on a final death toll would take time.

Australia's worst bushfires occured on Ash Wednesday in 1983, when 75 people were killed in Victoria.

Temperatures in Melbourne reached 46.4 degrees Celsius on Saturday - the highest on record.

There are currently 59 fires in New South Wales: Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says 10 are out of control. A total fire ban is in force across most of the state.

Burns victims

A number of injured people were taken to hospital in Melbourne overnight.

The ABC reports 18 people have been admitted so far; seven with burns to more than 30% of their body. The hospital says three patients are critically injured.

Many more burns victims are expected there on Sunday.