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Mass murder: Aussie PM

To Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, deliberately starting fires on scorching days in the wooded fringes of towns is nothing short of mass murder.

world Updated: Feb 09, 2009 23:44 IST

To Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, deliberately starting fires on scorching days in the wooded fringes of towns is nothing short of mass murder.

“There are no other words to describe it other than mass murder,” Rudd said, after the death toll in the nation’s worst-ever forest fires reached 171.

The death toll from bushfires in Australia’s southeastern Victoria state had risen by about 40 to at least 171, police said on Monday.

The toll was likely to rise even further, a Victoria police spokesman told Reuters by telephone from Melbourne.

A report last month from the Australian Institute of Criminology stated that around half of forest fires are deliberately lit, in what is largely an Australian phenomenon.

The report’s author, Damon Muller, explained that few arsonists are caught. The average punishment, if convicted, is a year in jail.

Rebekah Doley, who specialises in the psychology of serial arsonists and who has interviewed 130 of them, says arson is a simple crime but perpetrators are complex. “They also tend to be serial offenders and, in my experience, will not stop until caught,” she said.

Which means that those who lit this weekend’s fires, and learned that their handiwork had incinerated whole families inside their cars, will likely be at it again when the temperature rises and the winds pick up.