Friday, February 13, 2009

Man Arrested for Arson in Connection with the Victoria Bush Fires

The catastrophic bush fires that have cut a swath through the southern Australian state of Victoria have now tragically claimed 181 lives. Authorities warn that the death toll could conceivably reach 300.

Victoria Police have been treating the fires, which quickly spread from bush to towns, as "suspicious" and are working on the assumption that there may be one or more serial arsonists, operating either independently or (worst case scenario) collaboratively. Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, according to The Telegraph (U.K.), "has warned anyone found guilty of deliberately lighting fires in the past week had committed "mass murder" and would attract the strongest punishment."

In what is described as a "breakthrough" in the investigation, officers from task force Phoenix yesterday morning arrested a 39 year-old man (whose identity is being withheld) in Gippsland.

The man was charged with arson causing death, intentionally lighting a bush fire and possession of child pornography. If convicted, he will face a maximum of 25 years in prison for arson. However, arson experts have warned that securing a conviction can be very difficult because any evidence was likely to be incinerated by the fire.

So far, the fires have claimed more than 1800 homes and over 400,000 hectares of land.

The Herald Sun website has a multi-media presentation on the Victoria bush fires at this link. It includes stunning photographs, a site map of the fire zones, a remembrance of the dead, and a tribute to the heroism of the firefighters and other emergency responders.

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