26 hurt after man sets fire to bank in Melbourne

MELBOURNE • Twenty-six people were injured yesterday, some critically, after a man set fire to a busy bank in Australia with one witness saying he heard a "big blast" and children screaming.

Police said the man entered the Commonwealth Bank branch in the Melbourne suburb of Springvale with flammable liquid. Some reports said he doused himself with the accelerant and went up in flames, although this was not confirmed.

"He had some sort of accelerant with him. A container, not sure what he had. And somehow that accelerant was lit inside the bank," Inspector Jacqui Poida said.

The motive was not clear and Inspector Poida said it was too early to tell if it was terror-related.

Paramedics said six of those hurt were in a critical condition. One is believed to be the suspect, who is under police guard in hospital.

Fire crews were quickly on the scene with Country Fire Authority official Paul Carrigg saying the doors to the bank were shut when they arrived.

"You can look inside the bank, it's very black," he said. "There would have been a lot of flames to start with and a lot of smoke." He added that "we understand that there's been an explosion in the bank".

Witness Ashley Atkin-Fone, hailed a hero after running into the bank to help, said he heard "a big blast" and children screaming.

"This kid comes running out all burnt, screaming his head off... blood everywhere... I was shocked for a couple of minutes," he told the Herald Sun newspaper.

Mr Atkin-Fone grabbed a fire extinguisher from a nearby shop and ran into the bank to try to put out the flames, saying: "What do you do? Instincts just kick in."

The fire comes weeks after a bus driver of Indian origin was killed by an incendiary device thrown into his bus in Brisbane. A 48-year-old man was later charged with murder, attempted murder and arson.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2016, with the headline '26 hurt after man sets fire to bank in Melbourne'. Print Edition | Subscribe