News

Accused arsonist is in custody

By Riverine Herald

A WOMAN accused of burning down her Echuca unit this week is behind bars.

Police arrested Maree Atkinson on Tuesday afternoon in Annesley St and charged her with criminal damage by fire (arson) and committing an indictable offence while on bail.

The 43-year-old was remanded in custody overnight and appeared in Bendigo Magistrates Court on Wednesday.

During the bail application, where Atkinson represented herself, Detective Senior Constable Peter Colliver of Echuca Criminal Investigation told the court Atkinson was in the process of being evicted from the unit.

Det. Snr Constable Colliver said Atkinson had claimed the fire was accidental but police rejected that.

He said police alleged Atkinson started the fire in the lounge room of the Garden Crescent unit, while her 24-year-old daughter was inside.

‘‘It has caused extensive damage to the property. I would estimate about $200,000,’’ he said.

‘‘The whole front of the unit is gone and the other rooms are extensively smoke damaged. It will probably have to be torn down.’’

Atkinson’s bail application was refused and she was remanded in custody to appear at the same court on October 2 for a committal mention.

Emergency services were called to the intense fire about 11.30am on Tuesday.

Plumes of smoke could be seen billowing from streets away as five CFA crews rushed to the blaze, which took 25 firefighters about 20 minutes to extinguish.

CFA Campaspe Shire district 20 operations officer Michael Masters said two people were seen leaving the property before it went up in flames.

‘‘There was a risk of the fire spreading to sheds in the adjoining properties,’’ he said.

Forensic chemists arrived from Melbourne soon after to examine the scene and investigate the circumstances of the fire.