Sunday, May 10, 2009

Australia probes Victoria fires

A public inquiry is due to open in Australia to look into the bush fires in Victoria state in February - some of the worst in the country's history.

The royal commission will consider the official response, and whether warning systems in place were adequate.

The panel will also look at a controversial plan to change the law to force people to leave their homes when bush fires approach.

More than 170 people were killed and 2,000 homes destroyed by the blazes.

The BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney says the flames moved at such a frightening speed that warnings broadcast over local radio stations to endangered communities came after the flames had passed through.

Unaware of the intensity of the fires, residents could not make an informed decision about whether to flee or stay to protect their homes.

One area the commission will focus on is whether to bring in mandatory evacuations similar to those in other fire-prone countries.

But the proposed change would meet fierce opposition in bushland communities, our correspondent says.