An Australian man has been charged with deliberately starting 17 bushfires this year while out on bail for alleged sex crimes.
Mike Richard Holden, 27, was charged Wednesday in Darwin Local Court as fires rage across the country. An ankle bracelet he had to wear as part of his bail conditions for the sex charges linked him to several of the fires he is accused of starting.
Holden was a volunteer with the Darwin River fire fighting unit in Australia’s Northern Territory when, between January and September, he allegedly started the blazes.
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His lawyers argued the prosecution’s case was circumstantial and that he had been at the scene of the fires as part of his volunteer duties. They said he did not fit the profile of a lone arsonist because he works as a mechanic and is in a relationship, NT News reported.
However, the judge denied Holden bail after receiving 33 pages of what he called “powerful” information collected by the ankle bracelet. He said there was great concern of Holden reoffending. The next hearing in the case was scheduled for February.
Australian detectives arrested Holden after a raid on his house Tuesday. The bust was part of Operation Paringa, which was launched to investigate suspicious fires in Darwin’s rural areas and through the territory.
Mike Richard Holden among 180 charged with starting bushfires
Also Wednesday, New South Wales officials announced volunteer firefighter Blake Banner, 19, had been charged with intentionally starting seven bushfires in an area south of Sydney during a six-week period in October and November.
A day earlier, the New South Wales Police Force they had charged 24 people with setting bushfires. They said they have taken legal action against a total of 180 people for starting fires, intentionally or unintentionally.
Since September, the bushfires in Australia have killed at least 25 people. Almost 2,000 homes have been destroyed, and millions of animals have died. The fires have so far scorched some 16 million acres of land and are expected to keep burning for months.
Australians must combat bushfires every year. But this season is said to be one of the worst in the country’s history as a natural weather phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole has contributed to record temperatures, drought and strong winds. Some experts have also pointed to a record of poor forest management by the state.
Meanwhile, climate scientists had predicted global warming could hit Australia as hard as any developed country, with bushfires becoming more frequent and intense as temperatures rise.
In recent days, prominent liberals had shown little patience for nuances like the distinction between weather and climate. Many took the bushfires in Australia as an opportunity to renew their jeremiads against climate change.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on Saturday blamed Australians for hurting their country and the planet with “political inaction” on climate change. In a Facebook post days after her 17th birthday, she scolded the nation-in-crisis for the increased carbon emissions caused by the fires and for the resulting smoke, which she said was making glaciers in New Zealand “melt faster.”
“That has to change,” Thunberg said. “And it has to change now.”
She ended her post: “My thoughts are with the people of Australia and those affected by these devastating fires.”
On Sunday, at the Golden Globes, a number of celebrities also invoked the fires in Australia to demand the public join them in fighting climate change.
Actress Jennifer Aniston, in presenting the award for best actor in a limited TV series of TV movie, said Russel Crowe could not accept the trophy for his role on Showtime’s “The Loudest Voice” because he was home in Australia “protecting his family from the devastating bushfires.” She then read a statement on Crowe’s behalf.
“Make no mistake, the tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate change-based,” Aniston read. “We need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy, and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is. That way we all have a future.”
Conservatives fight fire with fire
However, after news of the alleged role of arsonists in Australia’s bushfires broke, conservative commentators pushed back on Twitter.
Radio host Tara Servatius responded to actress turned activist Alyssa Milano, who a day earlier commented on a video of a koala stuck in a brushfire: “We must act on climate change now for f—s sake.”
“The fires were caused by arson,” Servatius said. “You cannot change the weather … by paying money to the government.”
Conservative blogger Wayne Dupree joked, “Wait. I’m confused…Hollywood Celebrities and AOC told me the fires were caused by ‘Climate Change.’”
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Donald Trump Jr., who like his climate-skeptical father, President Donald Trump, has criticized Thunberg, simply slammed the alleged arsonists, saying, “Truly Disgusting that people would do this!”
If convicted, those charged with intentionally setting the bushfires in Australia could face up to 25 years in prison for property damage with the intention of endangering life, 25 years for manslaughter and 21 years for starting a fire and “being reckless as to its spread.”
The lesser offenses are punishable by up to a year in prison and a $5,500 fine.
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