"You put yourselves last and your community first," he said before placing eucalyptus leaves in a bowl of water as a symbol of remembrance and renewal.

"We intend to be with you every step of the way," he told survivors, pledging his government would help rebuild towns destroyed in the fires that began on February 7, scorching 400,000 hectares and leaving thousands of people homeless.

Firefighters in ash-covered uniforms joined memorial services across the country [AFP]
 

Officials warned that the fires, which have destroyed more than 1,800 homes, were far from over, with 4,300 firefighters still working to combat the blazes.

Lee Miezis, a spokesman for the state of Victoria's sustainability and development department, said: "We are potentially talking weeks before we have things completely under control and we are only part-way through our fire season.

Around 300 residents of the town of Marysville, where many people died, briefly returned home on Saturday in a convoy of buses.

"(Marysville) just has to live in our memories ... It's very hard to accept that," Patricia Beggs, a sobbing resident, said after the grim visit to the town.

Lawsuit

The Age newspaper reported some survivors were launching a lawsuit against a Singapore-owned electricity firm alleging a downed power line sparked one of the fatal firestorms near the town of Kinglake.

The newspaper reported residents of the town were going to sue SP Ausnet and the Victoria state government, alleging the power line set off a fire that killed at least 100 people and destroyed 1,000 homes in Kinglake.

SP Ausnet has refused to comment on the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, a 39-year-old man was due to appear in court on Monday in Melbourne, charged with causing death by arson in relation to one fire which killed more than 20 people.

Christine Nixon, the chief commissioner of Victoria state's police, said: "I know people are angry, and so are all of us in this community.

"But we need to kind of have a sense that the proper processes are in place and we need to go through the investigation and through the court case."