Boys charged over Aus fires
Sydney - Two Australian teenagers were charged on Tuesday with starting a fire a year ago that killed a man and razed 61 houses in the Victorian town of Bendigo.
The arson charges against the boys, 14 and 15, come just before the first anniversary of the spate of fires that broke out across the state of Victoria on February 7 2009.
On the same day the boys stand accused of starting the Bendigo blaze, a series of fires broke out in the area north of Melbourne, claiming 173 lives, destroying 2 000 properties and blackening 430 000 hectares on what came to be known as Black Saturday.
Police allege the boys chose the date, when the temperature was above 40C and winds reached 100km/h, so as to cause maximum death and destruction.
The fire the boys are charged with came within 2km of the centre of Bendigo, a town of 10 000 people, and would have had a frightening death toll had it not been for the bravery of fire-fighters.
The Australian Institute of Criminology estimates half of forest fires are deliberately started, the rest being due to lightning strikes or accidental ignition from cigarettes or machinery.
Arson is a difficult crime to prosecute because all the perpetrator needs is a box of matches, evidence which is easily destroyed in the resulting blaze.