Australian court charges forest-fire arson suspect (Lead)

February 13th, 2009 - 2:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Feb 13 (DPA) An Australian court Friday charged a man suspected of lighting one of the forest fires that last weekend killed at least 181 people, destroyed 1,800 homes and made 7,000 homeless.
A magistrate’s court charged him with arson causing death, intentionally or recklessly causing a fire and a further charge of possessing child pornography.

The man, who didn’t appear in court, was described as being “in a fragile mental state”. He was remanded in custody for his own safety. The court suppressed his identity.

The charges refer to what police allege was an arson attack in Churchill, a town north of Melbourne, where 21 people lost their lives in Saturday’s blaze.

Last weekend’s deadly fires started in the national parks that cover one third of the state of Victoria.

Some were the work of arsonists, prompting police to deploy 100 detectives to track down the perpetrators. Other fires had their genesis in lighting strikes or were caused by carelessness.

Police believe the fire that ravaged the town of Marysville, where 100 of the 500 residents may have died, was also deliberately lit.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon confirmed reports that some abandoned properties had been looted.

“We’re not seeing a lot of it, but we’re seeing some of it,” she said.

Survivors who lost their homes and are living in tents and community halls have been offered free accommodation at five military bases in Victoria. The government is also giving cash hand-outs to the dispossessed and paying funeral expenses.

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