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3 LDS homes among those burned in Australia wildfires

Three homes of Church members are among the more than 800 homes destroyed by the deadliest wildfires in Australia's history this February, according to a Church Welfare report.

A Whittlesea farm house destroyed by wildfires Monday, Feb. 9, 2009. The deadliest wildfires in Australia's history burned people in their homes and cars and wiped out entire towns, officials discovered Monday as they reached farther into the fire zone. Suspicions that the worst wildfires ever to strike Australia were deliberately set led police to declare crime scenes Monday in towns incinerated by blazes, while investigators moving into the charred landscape discovered more bodies. The death toll stood at 130.(AP Photo/Trevor Pinder/POOL)
A Whittlesea farm house destroyed by wildfires Monday, Feb. 9, 2009. The deadliest wildfires in Australia's history burned people in their homes and cars and wiped out entire towns, officials discovered Monday as they reached farther into the fire zone. Suspicions that the worst wildfires ever to strike Australia were deliberately set led police to declare crime scenes Monday in towns incinerated by blazes, while investigators moving into the charred landscape discovered more bodies. The death toll stood at 130.(AP Photo/Trevor Pinder/POOL) Photo: AP

No members or missionaries were injured in the fires, which claimed the lives of more than 180 people, left 5,000 people homeless, and burned 1,100 square miles (2,850 square kilometers) of land — the majority of which is located in Australia's southeastern state of Victoria. However, numerous member families were evacuated by the fires, which did not damage any Church property.

Blazes had been burning for weeks in the area, but turned deadly Feb. 7 when scorching temperatures and high winds created a fire storm that swept across the region. Experts predict the death toll will rise to near 300 as authorities are able to search devastated areas.

Firefighters use a hose to quench embers at a fire at Chum Creek, near Healseville, north east of Melbourne, Australia Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009. Officials believe arson may be behind at least some of the more than 400 fires that tore a destructive path across a vast swath of southern Victoria state over the weekend.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Firefighters use a hose to quench embers at a fire at Chum Creek, near Healseville, north east of Melbourne, Australia Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009. Officials believe arson may be behind at least some of the more than 400 fires that tore a destructive path across a vast swath of southern Victoria state over the weekend.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft) Photo: AP
Embers glow on a small stump among blackend trees at Chum Creek, near Healseville, north east of Melbourne, Australia Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009. Officials believe arson may be behind at least some of the more than 400 fires that tore a destructive path across a vast swath of southern Victoria state over the weekend.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Embers glow on a small stump among blackend trees at Chum Creek, near Healseville, north east of Melbourne, Australia Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009. Officials believe arson may be behind at least some of the more than 400 fires that tore a destructive path across a vast swath of southern Victoria state over the weekend.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft) Photo: AP

"Shifting winds blowing at or near 60 mph fanned the flames into furnace-like conditions and made it nearly impossible to know which direction to run from the flames," said Elder John Larsen, area welfare specialist for the Church's Pacific Area, which includes Australia.

Elder Larsen said the fire situation began to improve Feb. 9 when extreme temperatures and winds tempered. "This is a direct answer to the prayers of many," he said.

A firefighter stands by to man the pump on his truck at a fire at Chum Creek, north east of Melbourne, Australia Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009. Officials believe arson may be behind at least some of the more than 400 fires that tore a destructive path across a vast swath of southern Victoria state over the weekend.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
A firefighter stands by to man the pump on his truck at a fire at Chum Creek, north east of Melbourne, Australia Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009. Officials believe arson may be behind at least some of the more than 400 fires that tore a destructive path across a vast swath of southern Victoria state over the weekend.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft) Photo: AP
Fire devistation  at Jeeralong West, 200km south east of Melbourne, Feb. 10, 2009.  Police have confirmed the nearby town of Callignee lost 12 people in Saturday's bushfires. Suspicions that the worst wildfires ever to strike Australia were deliberately set led police to declare crime scenes Monday in towns incinerated by blazes, while investigators moving into the charred landscape discovered more bodies. The death toll stood at 130. (AP Photo/Stringer) **AUSTRALIA OUT**
Fire devistation at Jeeralong West, 200km south east of Melbourne, Feb. 10, 2009. Police have confirmed the nearby town of Callignee lost 12 people in Saturday's bushfires. Suspicions that the worst wildfires ever to strike Australia were deliberately set led police to declare crime scenes Monday in towns incinerated by blazes, while investigators moving into the charred landscape discovered more bodies. The death toll stood at 130. (AP Photo/Stringer) **AUSTRALIA OUT** Photo: AP

Local priesthood leaders, he said, have been in contact with government agencies and the Red Cross to determine what type of humanitarian aid from the Church would be of greatest worth. He said members are being asked to "pray for those affected by the disaster, and to ask the Lord to temper the elements to limit further destruction."

Further, he said, local members have been giving blood, which is in high demand by the burn victims.

Local CFA firefighter David Tree shares his water with an injured Australian Koala at Mirboo North after wildfires swept through the region on Monday, Feb. 9, 2009. Suspicions that the worst wildfires ever to strike Australia were deliberately set led police to declare crime scenes Monday in towns incinerated by blazes, while investigators moving into the charred landscape discovered more bodies. The death toll stood at 181.(AP Photo/Mark Pardew)
Local CFA firefighter David Tree shares his water with an injured Australian Koala at Mirboo North after wildfires swept through the region on Monday, Feb. 9, 2009. Suspicions that the worst wildfires ever to strike Australia were deliberately set led police to declare crime scenes Monday in towns incinerated by blazes, while investigators moving into the charred landscape discovered more bodies. The death toll stood at 181.(AP Photo/Mark Pardew) Photo: AP

Because government officials have "declared the fire zones a crime scene due to their suspicion of arson, in some cases," Elder Larsen said they are not allowing any clean-up work to begin. However, he added, "priesthood leaders are organizing for cleanup crews to render 'helping hands' service once the areas are opened and residents are allowed to return to their homes."

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