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Citizens return to burnt towns

RESIDENTS of towns scorched off the map by the worst wildfires in Australia's history returned to their homes for the first time yesterday and found scenes of utter devastation.

Police said that an investigation by arson specialists turned up signs of at least one case of foul play and a suspect was being sought. For the first day since Saturday's inferno, the official death toll did not rise yesterday. It stood at 181, though officials said it would exceed 200.

Victoria state Premier John Brumby expressed concern about the emotional impact of the sight of the destruction on survivors.

"Where do you start? Where do you start?" said Peter Denson, standing amid the ruins of his home in Kinglake, where at least 39 people were killed and the town all but destroyed.

The carpenter, 58, has lived in Kinglake since 1977. He wants to rebuild, but his house, now a blackened pile of timber, bricks and twisted metal, was not insured. He couldn't afford it.

"It's like a big atom bomb has gone off," said Denson.

After the fires, authorities sealed off some towns because collecting bodies was proceeding slowly. They also wanted to prevent residents from disturbing potential crime scenes.


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