Key Points:

Tina Wilson, 36, from Whakatane has become the first New Zealand victim of the Victoria bushfires.

TV3 reported Ms Wilson died in the Kinglake blaze, about 65 kilometres northeast of Melbourne, along with her three children Krystal (15), Nathan (13) and Tegan (6).

Her partner Sam Gents survived.

"She tried to get down the mountain and she rang me and said 'I can't get down,'" Mr Gents said.

"The fire brigade said go back to the house, and stay there and that's what she did.

"She rang me up and said 'I'm going next door, there are sprinklers there, we'll be fine. I'll call you soon.' That's the last I heard of her."

Ms Wilson never made it next door. She and her three children were burnt to death in her house.

"She was crying. She's a tough woman you know, very resourceful, and she would have been fighting to the end," said Mr Gents.

"[She was] outgoing, loved New Zealand - always spoke about New Zealand - belonged to the hot rod club in Whakatane. The founders were her mum and dad - John and Jean Wilson."

At the time of the fire he had pleaded with emergency services to be able to search for his family.

"I've been trying to get up the mountain, but they won't let me up there. I just want someone to take me up there to see if I can find them.

"The last anyone saw of them, the kids were running in the house, they were blocked in the house."

Mr Gents was incredulous at the possibility that the fires that killed his family were intentionally lit.

"Maybe [the arsonists] should go to the morgue and go see the over a hundred bodies and come talk to us.

"I know that's not going to happen. I don't know how the law is going to deal with them. It's just unbelievable."

The Herald understands Tina's parents and other family members have moved to Australia.

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

The deaths are among at least 70 in the Kinglake area, and come as Australian police close in on the identity of an arsonist responsible for lighting one of the deadly fires.

With the bushfire death toll now expected to exceed 300, New Zealand police forensic experts are preparing to fly to Victoria to assist in victim identification.

The hunt for the arsonist who contributed to the deaths of at least 21 people in Gippsland follows the formation of a Victorian police task force to investigate the bushfires.

Victorian police say they expect to release an image of his face along with others wanted for questioning over the fires.


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"We'll soon be in a position to provide face images of people we believe responsible," Morwell Detective Sergeant Brett Kahan said.

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Deputy police commissioner Kieran Walshe would not confirm reports police had been given a video tape to assist their investigation.

"We have got some very dedicated investigators working in a strong team to get all the evidence available to enable us to be in position to hopefully identify the perpetrator," Mr Walshe told ABC Television.

"We are feeling confident ... that we are making progress."

One-hundred police are investigating what they believe are multiple arsons.

Task Force Phoenix, which is investigating the fires, is being headed by Crime Department Assistant Commissioner Dannye Moloney, who was involved in similar investigations during the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires.

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Temporary morgue

* A temporary morgue has been set up at Victoria's State Coronial Services Centre to accommodate the mounting toll of victims.

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* The centre currently holds 101 victims.

Cost to economy

* The

Sydney Morning Herald

reports the bushfire tragedy could cost the Australian economy up to A$2billion ($2.5b).

NZ contribution

* Meanwhile, New Zealand Police said the number of NZ forensic experts travelling to Victoria and their departure debate are to be confirmed.

Prime Minister John Key earlier committed to sending 100 firefighters to Australia to assist more than 4000 Australian firefighters continuing to tackling the fires.

Units at Middlemore, Waikato, Hutt and Christchurch Hospitals have offered help to care for burns victims, Radio New Zealand reported.

Toll rising, fires still burning

The Age

reports there are still approximately 24 fires burning

The current death toll from the bushfire disaster is 181, and is likely to rise significantly when more remains are found in more than 700 burnt-out homes strewn through the 330,000ha so far razed in Australia's worst bushfire disaster.

- Isaac Davison with NZPA, AP, AAP