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Australian heatwave: One person dead as bushfires in southern states intensify

Police are investigating allegedly deliberate fires in the state of Victoria

A least one person has been killed as dozens of wildfires tear across southern Australia on Friday, as the heatwave continues.

Authorities said 68 fires were burning across the state of Victoria, a dozen of which were suspected to be deliberate. Another 16 were blazing across the neighboring state of South Australia.

Wind intensified fires as they gathered pace on Friday, with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for several days across both states.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay said one person died at home at Roses Gap in the Grampians region, northwest of the state capital Melbourne, but provided no further details.

Mr Lay said that 12 of the fires burning across Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, have been deliberately lit. Arson detectives are investigating. 

Victoria Fire Commissioner Craig Lapsley said a blaze burning over 21,000 hectares (52,000 acres) of woodland near the Grampians generated a 12 kilometer (7 mile-) column of rising hot air that was triggering lightning and sparking spot fires.

Residents in the region had been advised to evacuate their homes, but several people have stayed to protect their properties, Lapsley said.

“They have a right to do so ... but they also take on that risk themselves,” Lapsley said.

“They risk the fact that these fires will be very intense and erratic this afternoon,” he added.

Fire conditions in Victoria are at their worst since 2009, when wildfires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

Additional reporting by AP

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