Australia — Senior police said yesterday they were getting closer to identifying the arsonist responsible for the Murrindindi-Marysville bushfires that killed 38 people on Black Saturday.
In one of the largest operations since the 1986 Russell Street bombing, up to 250 police investigators have worked on the bushfire probe every day.
Assistant Commissioner Dannye Moloney said the extensive investigation had established the fire was deliberately lit.
“I do not intend to go into, and won’t go into, the evidence obtained or the evidence supplied by people that may have been in the vicinity,” he said.
“We are satisfied that it is deliberately lit. We are looking at strong leads which are indicating certain behaviours and we intend to pursue those. But of course we need the community to give us every bit of information they’ve got to help us support that direction we’re taking.”
Police say the fire was lit when the conditions were at their worst about 2.30pm on February 7 near the abandoned Murrindindi sawmill, south of Yea.
Mr Moloney launched a fresh appeal for witnesses in Wilhelmina Falls Road, Murrindindi, to come forward.
“I think the public that were in the vicinity that day could put the icing on the cake,” he said.
A Phoenix taskforce colleague of Mr Moloney, Detective Superintendent Paul Hollowood, said on February 14: “We believe the mill site is ground zero. This was not an attempt to burn down the mill but a deliberate attempt to create a bushfire on a massive scale.”
Mr Moloney said police were continuing to investigate the late January fires in Boolarra as well as the Black Saturday fires in Churchill. He said police would use all their resources to complete Operation Phoenix.
“This investigation will never close until it’s solved,” Mr Moloney said.
He urged anyone responsible to contact police.
“There is a possibility that the people or the person responsible is really worried and concerned about their position and if it’s a case of that, all you’ve got to do is pick up the phone. We’ll listen,” Mr Moloney said.
Meanwhile, police are investigating an arson attack on equipment scheduled to be used in the Marysville bushfire clean-up.
Two excavators and a tree harvester parked in a clearing north of Woods Point were set alight overnight on Saturday and were discovered by a truck driver about 5am on Sunday.
The equipment was to be used later that day in Marysville, 82 kilometres west.
Sergeant Graeme Matthews, of the Alexandra crime investigation unit, said the fire could have caused far more damage.
“It’s frightening to think of what might have been,” Sergeant Matthews said. “The fact that we could have had another bushfire to deal with is really disturbing. The clean-up of other bushfire-affected areas will be delayed as a result. These machines do an enormous amount of work in a short period of time.”
Mr Moloney said there was no link between Saturday’s attack and the February 7 fires.
Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000.