Australia Wildfire Victims Return to Burned Homes Amid Looting Fears

Arson has been ruled out as the cause of the Kinglake wildfire in Australia, one of the deadliest in the Victoria fires, as residents of towns scorched by the worst wildfires in Australia's history return home to survey the damage.

Police have ruled out arson in three other blazes but are still investigating the cause of other suspicious fires.

Despite saying a sketch of a suspect in the Churchill fire would be released soon, Assistant Commissioner Dannye Moloney said Wednesday no image would be released at this stage and no arrest was imminent.

Investigators are also looking into new fires that broke out overnight Tuesday. Victoria state Premier John Brumby said he was aware of "several" fires being lit in the Beechworth area, northeast of Melbourne.

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"There seems little doubt that these were deliberately lit," he told reporters Wednesday.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon confirmed that police were investigating reports of two small deliberately-lit fires which were quickly extinguished.

Up to 80 people are still missing in the Victoria fires as the official death toll continues to climb.

The toll reached 181 overnight but with dozens still unaccounted for it is certain to exceed 200.

Those missing were "people who the coroner believes are already deceased, but are not yet identified," Brumby said.

Marysville is being identified as a potential "Ground Zero," with authorities fearing up to 100 of its population of 519 has died.

"We had people banging on the sides of our tanker begging us to go back to houses where they knew there were people trapped, but we couldn't because if we had, we'd all be dead too," a firefighter told The Australianabout the moment the firestorm hit.

While there is free access to many areas in the fire zone, tensions rose as residents demanded to return to check on their homes, pets and whatever's left behind. Police granted some restricted access on Wednesday, and urged people to be patient.

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As shattered residents take stock of what they have lost, some have reported a sickening sight — looters moving through gutted homeslooking for items to steal.

A man whose brother was killed at his Yarra Junction home said thieves had tried to steal the only items spared from destruction. "They're vultures," he said.

Thousands of mostly volunteer firefighters were still battling more than a dozen fires across the state on Wednesday. The weather was cool, but gusting winds constantly threatened efforts to get them under control. Forecasters said temperatures could rise again by the weekend.

Some of the survivors were living in tents erected by emergency services on sports fields. Others stayed with friends or at relief centers.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Wednesday ordered officials to loosen regulations giving survivors access to a package of $6.6 million cash payments. Earlier, journalist Gary Hughes, who lost his home and belongings in the fires, published account of being told by officials he could not get any money without presenting a bank statement or other identity documents.

The Red Cross said its government-backed wildfire fund had received more than $22 million. Indonesia pledged $1 million to help rebuild schools and other public buildings destroyed in the fire and said it would send forensic experts to help identify the dead.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.