Man charged in deadly Australian fire

February 13, 2009

(ChattahBox) — An Australian man has been charged with arson over one of the country’s deadly bushfires. The man’s identity has been suppressed and police have moved him to a secret location amid fears of a backlash by victims seething with grief and anger.  Police have said they believe foul play was the cause of at least two of the deadly blazes, including the Churchill fire. Those suspicions disgusted the country and prompted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to describe the fires as possible mass murder.

Police said the suspect was charged with one count of arson causing death and intentionally lighting a wildfire near the town of Churchill that killed at least 21 people.  It was one of hundreds of fires that raged through southeastern Victoria state Feb. 7, leaving 7,000 people homeless and razing entire towns.  If found guilty, the man faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison for the deadly arson charge, and a maximum of 15 years on the second arson charge. The suspect also was charged with possessing child pornography.

The disaster’s official death toll is 181, but efforts to find and identify victims were continuing and officials expected the final tally to exceed 200. More than 1,800 homes and 1,500 square miles (3,900 square kilometers).


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