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Firefighters want action on climate change

FIREFIGHTERS called on the Australian government yesterday to take a tougher stance against climate change in an effort to avoid more deadly bushfires like those that killed 181 people this week.

"Without a massive turnaround in policies, aside from the tragic loss of life and property, we will be asking firefighters to put themselves at an unacceptable risk," United Firefighters Union of Australia said in an open letter.

"We understand that our job is dangerous by its very nature. However, we are gravely concerned that current ... policies seem destined to ensure a repeat of the recent tragic events," said the union in an open letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The call came as police detained two people suspected of deliberately lighting one of the bushfires that savagely swept through southeast Australia on Saturday.

Authorities say the toll is expected to rise beyond 200 as more bodies are discovered in the charred remains of houses in the southern state of Victoria.

One razed town, Marysville, sealed off to the public due to the horrific scenes there, may contain 50 to 100 more dead, authorities said. That would bring the toll to around 300.

Prime minister Rudd has described the bushfires as "mass murder." In Victoria, arson carries a jail term of two to 15 years, and 25 years if there's loss of life.

The fires are the worst natural disaster in Australia in 110 years. The previous worst fires killed 75 people in 1983.

The firefighters union has now joined Green politicians and environmental activists in arguing that the deadly infernos are a climate change wake-up call to Australia.

Australia is one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change because of its hot, dry environment, but with its dependence on coal-fired power, Rudd has set a target to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by only 5 percent by 2020.


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