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173 dead in Australia wildfires: police

The death toll from the worst wildfires in Australia's history has jumped to 173, police said on Tuesday, as troops and firefighters battled to save communities threatened by the flames.

world Updated: Feb 10, 2009 09:59 IST

The death toll from the worst wildfires in Australia's history has jumped to 173, police said on Tuesday, as troops and firefighters battled to save communities threatened by the flames.

The Country Fire Authority in devastated Victoria state, where all of the deaths have occurred, issued a series of alerts warning of possible flare-ups across the region, as nervous residents prepared for the worst.

Shifting winds threatened to send the wildfires beyond containment lines hacked out by thousands of firefighters, most of them exhausted volunteers who have been working for days with little rest.

The firestorm has engulfed entire towns and wiped out families, triggering both heartache and anger after police revealed some of the blazes were set by arsonists.

"There is a huge effort to get them under control (but) tragically we will have more deaths later this week," Victoria Premier John Brumby told public television.

The Australian Associated Press quoted Victoria police as saying the death toll had risen to 173, with most of the new victims found in two small towns, Strathewen and St Andrews, to the northeast of Melbourne.

Two dozen fires were still burning in the state early today. Officials urged residents of the town of Healesville to be vigilant, saying high winds could send burning embers into the air, increasing the likelihood of fires.