UPDATE: A man has been charged with three counts of murder following the incident.
The 52-year-old was charged in Melbourne’s CBD on Thursday.
Three squatters died in the blaze.
Three people were found dead in a factory fire in Footscray last night. Police are treating the fire as suspicious.
Emergency services were called to the site of the old Kinnears factory on Ballarat Road at about 11:30 last night after reports of a blaze at the location.
The Metropolitan Fire Brigade contained the fire to a single room and took about an hour to extinguish the blaze.
The three bodies are yet to be identified, but are believed to be squatters – two male and one female in their 20s to 30s.
— Gloria Kalache (@gloriakalache) March 1, 2017
Local resident Adi Mangidi told The Age that he heard screams and ran out with buckets to help.
“I didn’t know there were people inside. I thought they screamed and ran away,” he said.
Another resident also told The Age that “there was often firewood or kindling nearby, which suggested they would have fires inside.”
Youth outreach worker and homelessness activist Les Twentyman, who lost his foundation’s Footscray office to a blaze in December of last year, told the Herald Sun that there is a little alcove near the carpark that people sleep in.
“It just shows how desperate they are,” he said.
“You can’t get on with your life when you are sleeping in a tip or a derelict factory or a river cave.”
Neighbour Winn Pham told the Herald Sun that he’s “never seen any trouble with them. They lock up during the day and come back at night.”
According to Star Weekly, a redevelopment was proposed by China-based company R&F Properties to turn the 3.3ha space into apartments.
R&F Properties paid $60 million for the site in 2014.
The property was a Victorian Heritage Register listed site, and it was the biggest and longest continually operating ropeworks factory in Victoria, operating from 1903 to 2002.
R&F Properties had tried to put locks on the property once before, but the squatters cut them and replaced them with their own.
According to ABC’s Gloria Kalache, the squatters had been there for a year and even had a garden out the front.
— ABC Radio Melbourne (@abcmelbourne) March 1, 2017
An unnamed local resident spoke to The Age, describing one of the male victims as a lovely, relaxed man.
Mr Twentyman told the Herald Sun that people in need were crying out for emergency accommodation.
“This is what happens – this is the outcome,” he said.