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Australians flee homes after new fires threat

SCORES of people fled their homes in southern Australia yesterday after strong winds fanned still-burning wildfires, triggering fears of a new wave of destruction after the blazes that killed more than 200 people earlier this month.

At least two new fires also ignited in Victoria, where fires swept a vast area of the state on February 7, destroying more than 1,800 homes in the country's worst fire disaster.

Some of the blazes have been burning for weeks in the state and had mostly been contained by firefighters hosing down the edges and building firebreaks.

At least one house was destroyed in the suburb of Belgrave South as a fire lapped at the forested fringes of Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, the Country Fire Authority said. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries fighting the blaze.

Residents were warned to either leave their homes early or prepare themselves to fight the fires. Many said the carnage of the February 7 fires made the decision to stay or go an easy one. "I'm no hero - take the house," one unnamed woman told a television interviewer as she prepared to leave the town of Warburton, where homes were threatened by a resurgent fire that has burned for weeks.

Relief centers in nearby towns filled with people who had loaded their cars with photos, clothes and other personal belongings and left their houses to wait out the emergency.

Country Fire Authority officials said properties most under threat were around Belgrave and Upwey on the eastern verge of Melbourne and at Enoch Point, about 80 kilometers northeast.

The confirmed death toll on what has been dubbed as "Black Saturday" rose to 210 and is expected to rise as more remains are identified.

One man has been charged with starting one fire, and arson is suspected in the case of at least one other outbreak.


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