The devastating wildfires that ravaged rural towns near Melbourne, Australia, have claimed more than 170 lives, say officials – and may have been intentionally set.

According to authorities, at least 800 homes were consumed in the inferno that roared through the region surrounding Australia’s second-largest city – destroying “whole towns” and leaving thousands of people homeless. Currently, the official death toll stands at 171 lives lost, though that number is expected to increase as search-and-rescue workers move deeper into the afflicted areas.

Police believe the fires were deliberately started, and have labeled one of the destroyed towns “a crime scene.” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd went a step further, telling media that the disaster was nothing short of “mass murder.”

We here at The Escapist offer our sincerest sympathy and concern for the victims of this tragic disaster and their friends and families. Many of our writers, readers, and fans reside in Australia, and our heart goes out to all of you. If you’re part of The Escapist’s Australian community, please feel free to sound off in this thread and let everyone know that you’re all right.

(Daily Telegraph)

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