Arson suspects arrested
* Georgina Robinson
* February 12, 2009 - 1:16PM
Police have arrested two suspected arsonists over the deadly bushfires in Victoria.
Police today confirmed the men were arrested in Taggerty, about 23 kilometres north of Marysville, about 11am.
Detectives are making inquiries about the men's recent activities in the Taggerty area.
"The investigation is in its initial stages," a police spokeswoman said.
Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon said this morning that arsonists were responsible for the fire which raged through Churchill. She said arsonists could have been behind the Marysville bushfire too.
Part of the concern about the Marysville blaze was that there was no explanation for how it started, Ms Nixon told the Seven Network.
She said police had already spoken to some suspects over the deadly Victorian bushfires.
"We're obviously working very hard on that investigation and we've spoken to a number of suspects so far but it's still an ongoing investigation," Ms Nixon said.
"We'll get there, but it is a matter of piecing together all of the evidence and getting information from the various groups so that we can add that to our current investigation."
The bushfires death toll stands at 181, with expectations the final number would be much higher.
The death toll in Marysville currently stands at 15, but there are fears it could rise to up to 100.
Ms Nixon said: "The coroner has facilities in place for 300 bodies, that's part of their planning but the toll at the moment is 181 people. But we do expect, as I have said all along, that that would rise as we are working our way through a number of communities."
The police's taskforce Phoenix was involved in the investigation, Ms Nixon said.
She said police were prepared to lay a charge of murder by arson - with a 25-year jail penalty - against anyone believed to have caused one of the fatal bushfires.
She added that police had received reports that more fires have been deliberately lit since Saturday.
"We certainly have had reports of other fires being lit," Ms Nixon told Seven this morning.
"You and I would just be staggered by that, but that's what we're certainly seeing. We've been investigating those as well."
Ms Nixon said South Australian Premier Mike Rann's idea of putting convicted or suspected arsonists under surveillance during high fire-risk periods sounded like a "reasonable strategy".
'It's a modern day Dresden'
Alan Ryan, a survivor of the inferno that wiped Marysville off the map, said the town went from being under no threat to under siege in minutes and there was nothing anybody could do.
"The firestorm that enveloped the town is something that I'll never forget,'' Mr Ryan, 59, said.
"The people that have been back have said it's absolute decimation, everything is just powder and ash, it's a modern day Dresden, you know Dresden that suffered the bombing in the Second World War.''
Mr Ryan said he evacuated with about two minutes to spare and watched from the Buxton-Marysville Road as the town was swallowed by the flames.
"It was like a big cauldron that was boiling over and it was running over the lip, you could see the cloud sort of rolling, which was the fire front and the wind.''
The blaze is believed to have claimed about 100 people - a fifth of Marysville's population.
Mr Ryan said the evacuation was a shambles and the fire was travelling at such speed there was no time to warn people.
He said the Marysville he fell in love with a decade ago would never likely recover.
"The place, it has a heart and a soul, everything about it, the surroundings, the flora, the fauna, the whole place is just a little place of heaven.
"To rebuild Marysville, it's died but whether it can be resurrected like the rising of a Phoenix ... whether a new soul can be developed, I don't know?''
Victorian Premier John Brumby said he expected up to 100 fatalities in Marysville alone.
"In the Marysville area, for example, there could be between 50 and 100 lives finally lost there,'' Mr Brumby told Sky News.
"There are still deceased persons in homes, and despite a big police, Metropolitan Fire Brigade and army presence in Marysville, they've still not been able to identify and remove all bodies.''
The arson revelations came as milder weather conditions helped Victorian firefighters keep two major bushfires from merging to create a super fire.
Rain and cooler conditions overnight gave firefighters some respite as they continued to battle 21 fires that were still out of control.
Fears have now eased that two major fires, Gippsland's Bunyip Ridge blaze and the Yea Murrindindi fires to the north, may join unless protective work keeps them apart.
Melbourne's already drought-starved water catchments could also be under threat by fires sparked by lightning strikes near Healesville and Warburton, just east of Melbourne.
Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) spokesman Stuart Ord said firefighters would take advantage of the milder weather in the next few days to continue backburning and move more equipment and fighters into the fire edges to ensure they do not join up.
"Because it's cool, (there is) a little moisture in the air, the winds are very low, the weather conditions have been very favourable for what we have been trying to achieve," he said.
In the south, some rain fell on the deadly Churchill-Jeeralang blaze and another burning out of control in the Wilsons Promontory National Park.
In Beechworth, firefighters were also close to keeping that fire behind containment lines, Mr Ord said.
Mr Ord said the milder weather was helping firefighters make good progress in constructing containment lines.
"The weather's going to be reasonably cool and calm today and for the next few days. That's going to help our firefight effort in terms of getting our people and equipment to the fire edge and get containment lines in,'' he said.
"It gives us a window of opportunity now to do some good work."
- with AAP