Port Vila, Vanuatu (PressExposure) February 17, 2009 -- Wild fires have killed at least 21 people and left the town's folk of Churchill, Victoria, Australia, homeless. It is strongly believed the fire was started by an arsonist. Is that asking to be lynched, as emotions now reach boiling point?
The Australian authorities have arrested a 39 nine year old, Brendan Sokaluk, suspected of arson and placed him in protective custody, in a maximum security block of a Melbourne prison. They have also arrested several looters and fire-devastated areas are being closed off.
Victorian Police Assistant Commissioner Dannye Moloney explained, "We have an emotive environment out there. The fire victims do not need the added trauma of trying to deal with an arsonist". Many victims of the fires are very vocal in their opinion of what they feel should be done with arsonists.
The authorities suspect that deliberately lit fires have been the cause of least two of the wild fires, which have destroyed thousands of hectares across South Australia and caused the deaths of over 180 persons, leaving 7,000 homeless.
At one point the smoke plume from the fires reached 15km high and it is thought the fire complex was responsible for over 1000 lightning strikes. "It looked more like a volcanic eruption than a firestorm", reported one of the survivors. "We called it the devil's breath. It was breathing down our throats", another said. Deaths were caused by the heat from as far away at 200 metres. Dead birds fell out of the sky.
While the southern part of Australia has been sweltering in an extensive heat wave and had to battle hundreds of wild fires, in a battle they couldn't win, approximately two thirds of Queensland in the north east of Australia, is drowning beneath flood waters.
Verbal threats were hurled at the vehicle, believed to be carrying the supposed arsonist, as it left the courthouse in Morwell. Tempers run high as one victim revealed, "If this person is not insane, then he should be put in jail for a very long time". Others would like to have just a few minutes alone with the suspected culprit.
The magistrate ordered the arsonist to undergo psychiatric evaluation and has banned any publication of photographs of the suspect. If found guilty the man could find he is facing up to 25 years in prison on one arson charge and 15 years on a second charge.
Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister, was quick with his opinion, that the act of arson could be viewed as possible murder. However, both the act of arson and murder by arson are almost impossible to prove. Rudd is adamant in his statement of seeing that this kind of tragedy never occurs again, "Even if it means cracking heads to ensure that a nationwide fire warning system is in place. A process that has been hampered because of bickering between state and federal officials".
It is not clear yet that the fire danger is completely over. The Victorian firefighters have now been joined by New Zealand and interstate crews, in an attempt to lower the danger of further blazes.
However, should the arsonist be found guilty and sentenced to prison, one can only speculate as to how long he would remain drawing breath, no matter how secure the prison environment. Is there anywhere a known arsonist could hide?
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