Australian to be tried over bush fire deaths

A man pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that he deliberately started one of the deadly wildfires that swept through southern Australia last year.

The fires in Victoria state in February 2009 were Australia's deadliest, killing 173 people and destroying more than 2,000 homes. Brendan Sokaluk is accused of starting one blaze that investigators say killed 10 people.

Sokaluk, 41, pleaded not guilty in Melbourne Magistrates Court to 190 charges, which include 10 counts of arson causing death.

The other counts cover serious injuries suffered by 21 people as well as property damage from the fire. He faces life in prison if convicted of all charges.

Magistrate Simon Garnett said evidence suggested the fire had been deliberately lit.

"The charges you are facing are of the most serious kind," Garnett told Sokaluk in court.

Sokaluk did not apply for bail. He has not made any statements about the charges against him.

The next court hearing was scheduled for July 19.

- AP

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