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. Aus fire death toll unlikely to rise much above 200: police

More than 3,000 firefighters were thrown into battle against the fires and have managed to prevent further losses, but they were still working on five blazes burning out of control on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Melbourne (AFP) Feb 18, 2009
The death toll in the worst wildfires in Australia's history is unlikely to rise significantly higher than the 201 already announced, police said Wednesday.

In marked contrast to earlier reports that the toll could go as high as 300, Deputy Commissioner Keiran Walshe said police believed the bodies of people listed as missing had been located.

"At this point in time we are relatively comfortable all those unaccounted for have now been accounted for -- their remains have been located," Walshe told reporters.

The toll would probably rise as police searched through the charred rubble of houses and towns for at least another week but the increase was unlikely to be significant, the national AAP news agency quoted him as saying.

The official toll of 201 includes a firefighter who was killed Tuesday by a falling tree near the town of Marysville, which was almost completely destroyed.

The wildfires swept through the southeastern state of Victoria on February 7, driven by hot winds and record temperatures that had left the countryside as dry as tinder, destroying about 1,800 houses.

More than 3,000 firefighters were thrown into battle against the fires and have managed to prevent further losses, but they were still working on five blazes burning out of control on Wednesday.

A national day of mourning for the victims will be held on Sunday.

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