SYDNEY – Australian police have detained two people suspected of deliberately lighting one of the bushfires which savagely swept through southeast Australia killing at least 181 people and leaving 5,000 homeless.
"The investigation is in its initial stages. Two people are assisting police with inquiries," a police spokeswoman told Reuters on Thursday. Police would not give any further details.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has described Australia's deadliest bushfires last Saturday as "mass murder."
Authorities say the toll is expected to rise beyond 200 as more bodies are discovered in the charred remains of houses in the southern state of Victoria.
In Victoria, arson carries a jail term of two to 15 years, and 25 years if there's loss of life.
Several bushfires tore through rural towns north of Melbourne on Saturday night, fanned by strong winds and heatwave temperatures.
The disaster area, more than twice the size of London and encompassing more than 20 towns north of Melbourne, has been declared a crime zone. The fires have burned 1,033 homes and left 5,000 people homeless.
The tragedy is the worst natural disaster in Australia in 110 years. The previous worst bushfire was the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983 which killed 75 people.