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Australia wildfire toll down from 210 to 173

March 30, 2009|Associated Press

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — The official death toll from last month's Australian wildfires was revised to 173 from the previous count of 210, Victoria state police said today.

Some people who had been missing turned up safe, authorities said, and investigators realized that some sets of remains belonged to single victims rather than to several people, or even to animals.

On Feb. 7, record temperatures, high winds and forests desiccated by years of drought combined into infernos that swept through a vast area of Victoria, destroying more than 2,000 homes and displacing more than 7,500 people.

In the six weeks since, many people who were initially thought to be missing have been found, Deputy Police Commissioner Kieran Walshe said in the statement. The death toll was further reduced when forensic examiners realized that some sets of remains belonged to one person, rather than to multiple people.

Some remains at first thought to be human have since been identified as animal, which also affected the death toll, Walshe said.

"We continuously stated that this would be a complicated and lengthy matter and it would take considerable time before we were in a position to accurately determine the number of people who lost their lives as a result of this tragic event," Walshe said.

Police said they were "more confident that 173 is closer to the final number of people who perished during the fires."

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