2 Feb 2010

Boys face raft of charges over Black Saturday fire

10:55 pm on 2 February 2010

Two boys charged with lighting the Black Saturday bushfire in Australia that killed a disabled man, inundated emergency services with prank calls before and after the killer blaze, a court has been told.

One of the boys, 15, appeared in a children's court in Melbourne on Tuesday to answer more than 140 charges, including arson causing death.

The other boy, 14, appeared in a separate court, which heard the pair lit the Maiden Gully fire in Bendigo about 4.20pm on 7 February last year in a dry creek bed near a quarry and watched the fire grow.

The fire killed house-bound Long Gully man Kevin Kane, 47, who was trapped inside his home, and caused $A23.5 million damage to the area, AAP reports.

Both boys, aged 13 and 14 at the time of the fire, were bailed on strict conditions, including a ban on going near bushland.

The court heard they called triple-0 more than 50 times between 29 January and 26 March, including on Black Saturday, harassing and threatening operators with obscene comments.

Police arrested the boys on Tuesday. They were each charged with arson causing death, deliberately lighting a bushfire, lighting a fire on a total fire ban day and lighting a fire in a country area during extreme weather conditions.

They were also charged with 135 counts each of criminal damage by fire (arson) and multiple counts of using a telecommunications service to menace and harass over a two-month period beginning just days before the fire.

They will appear in court again in May.

As a result of the Maiden Gully fire, 354 hectares of land, 61 houses and 125 sheds and outbuildings were burnt.

The Black Saturday fires killed 173 people in the state of Victoria and destroyed more than 2000 properties.