Fri, February 13, 2009
World > Asia-Pacific > Deadly bushfire in Australia

Suspect arrested in deadly Australia fires

2009-02-13 03:35:36 GMT2009-02-13 11:35:36 (Beijing Time)

A survivor in the deadliest wildfires in Australia's history is consoled by a Country Fire Authority member outside the Healesville Relief Centre Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009. More than 400 fires ripped through Victoria on Saturday, destroying more than 1,000 houses, leaving some 5,000 people homeless, and scorching 1,100 square miles (2,850 square kilometers) of land. (Agencies)

YEA, Australia – Police arrested a suspect Friday in connection to one of the deadly wildfires in southern Australia that killed more than 180 people and left about 7,000 homeless.

Police did not release any details about the suspect, but a newspaper report said he was a 39-year-old man who would likely be charged with arson causing death in what police call the Churchill fire.

At least 21 people died in the Churchill fire, one of hundreds that scorched Victoria state last Saturday, destroying almost 2,000 homes. The official death toll is 181 and is expected to exceed 200.

Officials have vowed to pursue murder charges against alleged arsonists if the evidence supports it.

After The Age newspaper published a report about the arrest on its Web site, Victoria state police spokeswoman Marika Fengler confirmed to The Associated Press that a man had been arrested in connection to the Churchill fire. She would give no further details.

The newspaper reported that the man was from Churchill and was expected to appear in court later Friday.

The report came as a blaze in the nearly burned-out wildfire zone flared up and menaced the town of Healesville — in a reminder that the country's worst fire disaster may not be over yet.

In one of more than a dozen blazes firefighters still struggled to contain, flames hit a patch of extra-dry timber in a valley about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from Healesville, flaring up and sending embers and smoke over the town, said Stuart Ord of Victoria state's Department of Sustainability and the Environment.

The Country Fire Authority said later Friday that the immediate threat to homes had eased, but warned residents to remain vigilant.

The scale of the disaster became clearer Friday. The tally of homes destroyed in the wave of wildfires that swept Victoria state a week ago jumped to more than 1,800. The Victorian government also raised the number of people left homeless, to 7,000.


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