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Asia-pacific

Two arsonists charged as deadly blazes rage on

Video by Florence VILLEMINOT

Latest update : 2009-02-09

A 31-year old man and a 15-year old boy have been charged with starting blazes as a separate search goes on to find arsonists suspected of causing the fires in Victoria that killed at least 108 people. High winds continue to spread the flames.

AFP - Two people have been charged with arson after wildfires raged through southeastern Australia at the weekend, killing at least 108 and destroying more than 700 homes, police said Monday.
   
A 31-year-old man accused of lighting a major blaze that burnt through about 200 hectares (495 acres) of bushland in Peats Ridge on the New South Wales central coast was due in court Monday after spending the night in a jail cell.
   
A 15-year-old boy who allegedly set off an explosive that started a small scrub fire in the Blue Mountains near Sydney on Sunday was released on bail after being charged and will appear in court next month.
   
Neither of those fires killed anybody, but police suspect that arsonists were also behind some of the major fires in neighbouring Victoria state, where all of the fatalities occurred.
   
Victoria state police commissioner Christine Nixon said all bushfire areas will be treated as crime scenes to determine if arson was involved.
   
"At this stage we have a team at the fire at Churchill, in the Gippsland Valley, which is certainly one that we believe was deliberately lit," Nixon said.
   
"Our fire experts and our own investigators have suggested that the way that it happened, how fast that it happened, that there is good evidence to believe that it was lit."
   
Forensic investigators have also begun work in the Kinglake area where hundreds of homes were destroyed.
   
"Wherever a death has occurred, we investigate that as a crime," Nixon told ABC radio.
   
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Monday arsonists were guilty of mass murder.
   
"What do you say about anyone like that -- there are no words to describe it other than mass murder," Rudd said.
   
Arsonists, who are believed to have taken advantage of tinder-box conditions after a heatwave and high winds, could face life in jail if they are convicted on murder charges, police say.
   
The government's Australian Institute of Criminology released a report last week which said half of the nation's 20,000 to 30,000 bushfires each year are deliberate.

Date created : 2009-02-08

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