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Australian state hikes firefighting funds

THE Australian state that suffered deadly wildfires earlier this year hopes to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy with record spending on fire trucks and communications equipment, a newspaper reported today.

A firefighting budget of 204 million Australian dollars (US$149 million) is expected to be part of the Victoria state budget announced Tuesday, the state's Herald Sun newspaper reported in an exclusive story.

It said the budget includes money to buy 87 new fire trucks and more than 50 tankers. It also provides more than A$20 million (US$15 million) to upgrade radio and pager networks used by emergency services and A$110 million (US$80 million) to boost the emergency telephone line capacity.

The Feb. 7 fires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes. The speed and ferocity of the fires overwhelmed the County Fire Authority, and in some cases all its manpower and equipment were battling one front while the fire roared through another area, nearly wiping out several towns.

Victims have complained that they had no notice of the fires.

Last Thursday, federal and state leaders agreed to create a national disaster alert telephone service that has been stalled for five years by bickering over costs. The A$15 million (US$11 million) phone network will automatically send warnings for a range of disasters to cell phones and landlines.


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