Bushfires claim first NZ victim

DEATH TOLL: 181. HOMES LOST: 700+.
Last updated 07:34 08/02/2009
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GONE: Errol Shearsby and his wife Beverley survey the remains of their family home in Christmas Hills.
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HEROES: Eltham CFA firefighters Nel Ellery (right) and Kevin L'Huillier (second from left) with their team members Andrew Heath (left), Sarah Quilici (sitting) and Anthony Owen (top).
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A FAMILY'S GRIEF: A family learns that their parents Faye and Bill Walker and brother Geoffrey Walker were killed in the fires at Narbethong near Healesville.
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DEVASTATION: Paul Beckman, 53, sifting through the ruins of his life after fires destroyed his house and livelihood at Narbethong near Healesville.
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AIRBORNE ASSAULT: Water-bombing near the town of Churchill as new fires flare.

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Ask former New Zealander Jen Wilson what should happen to whoever started the Victorian bushfires that killed four of her family and she snaps momentarily out of her grief.

"They must be dead already," she said.

Her friend Terry added: "We should catch them and when we do hang them."

Ms Wilson's daughter Tina Wilson, 36, a New Zealander and originally from Whakatane, and grandchildren Krystal Breeze, 15, Nathan Breeze, 13, and Tegan Haymes, 6, perished in their Kinglake home on Saturday.

In a community that has had to deal with a lot of tragedy since Saturday, the deaths of the family struck a special chord.

Ms Wilson stands in front of a makeshift monument to her daughter and grandchildren, a rock covered in bunches of flowers and messages of comfort.

"The community has just poured out all their love and support to us, because Tina is a special person and her children are special," Ms Wilson said.

"I won't allow anyone to do anything that is not a celebration of their lives."

Tina Wilson's partner Sam Gents said she was trying to escape from her home but was unable to get past the fire.

"She tried to come down the mountain," Mr Gents told New Zealand's TV3 on Tuesday.

"She rang me up and said `look I can't get down, there's fire'."

The fire brigade told her to go back to the house, he said.

"That's what she did and she rang me up and said 'look, I'm going to go next door -- the house has got sprinklers on the roof and we'll be fine, and I'll call you soon'. That was the last I heard of her.

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"... She was crying, she was crying, but she's a tough woman you know, resourceful so she would have been fighting to the end."

Although some have criticised authorities for not doing enough to warn of the inferno, Jen Wilson, who has lived in Australia for 25 years, said they acted on the best advice available.

"The fires up here have been by no means normal. Houses don't normally explode. They don't normally vaporise," she said.

"In the past if you told someone to stay in the home they could walk out even if it catches fire, that is the correct advice 99.9 percent of the time."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was seeking more information on the safety of other New Zealanders believed to have been in the affected area.

- AAP

- The Age

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