Australian forest fire arson suspect arrested

February 13th, 2009 - 11:18 am ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Feb 13 (DPA) Australian police Friday arrested a 39-year-old 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 police spokeswoman said the man was a resident of Churchill, a town north of Melbourne that lost 21 of its inhabitants in Saturday’s blaze.

The arrest came as police were questioning one man, and searching for another, over fires deliberately lit Thursday closer to Melbourne and quickly brought under control.

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 Churchill fire was deliberately lit, as was the fire that ravaged the town of Marysville, where 100 of the 500 residents may have died in the flames.

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 for funeral expenses.

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