Accessibility links

Breaking News

Australian Court Hears Case of Suspected Arsonist as Fires Continue to Burn

A court in Australia has released the identity of a man accused of lighting a fire in the southeastern state of Victoria. Brendan Sokaluk, faces charges of arson causing death, intentionally lighting a bushfire and one count of possessing child pornography. More than 180 people died in Victoria's wildfire crisis and the government has announced details of a national day of mourning.

Brendan Sokaluk, 39, is the only arson suspect to be charged so far since bushfires engulfed Victoria. He chose not to appear in court, where a magistrate revealed his identity. Sokaluk has not entered a plea and will spend the next three months in protective custody until he is back in court.

Other fires are thought to have been started deliberately, including the outbreak that destroyed much of the resort town of Marysville.

Victoria's police chief, Christine Nixon, says investigations continue.

"Look we certainly have beliefs about how the fire started, particularly in the Kilmore fire and we also are working strongly on ranges of evidence around the Marysville fire," said Nixon. "But the teams are working very hard with fire experts to understand what caused these fires and obviously then whether they were intentionally lit."

Survivors are starting to decide whether to rebuild their incinerated homes and businesses or walk away and relocate elsewhere.

Farmer Rod Thomas saw flames more than 11 meters high tear through his cattle ranch near the town of Yea, destroying about 80 percent of the land and many buildings.

He is prepared for what will be a massive rebuilding effort.

"I've spent 11 years sort of turning this place into what was actually a beautiful property. So, I guess what's happened is my clock has been wound back 11 years," he said. "I don't mind. I had a lot of fun doing it but for some people they won't have the energy to do it.'

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has promised to rebuild devastated towns "street by street and brick by brick."

A national day of mourning will be held on Sunday as Australia's remembers this unprecedented disaster which has left scores dead and more than seven thousand people homeless.

Officials say that favorable weather conditions over the next few days should help fire-fighters control eight blazes that still burn out of control in Victoria.