A former resident of a Sydney boarding house has appeared in court charged with murdering three men who died when an explosive fire engulfed the dilapidated two-storey building.
Richard Hotoran, 45, was charged with three counts of murder and one charge of damaging property by fire or explosion after surrendering himself to Surry Hills Police Station on Tuesday night.
The Kingsford man, according to court documents, on Wednesday appeared in Central Local Court, where he made no application for bail and it was formally refused.
Police say he ignited an explosion early on Tuesday at the Newtown boarding house, triggering a fierce blaze that trapped and killed at least three residents.
NSW Police have grave concerns for a fourth man, who remains missing.
Eight men managed to escape the inferno and two remain in hospital, one in a critical condition. One man in his 80s jumped from the burning building and suffered a heart attack as well as serious leg injuries.
Two of the bodies have been removed from the charred building. Police hoped to find the third body on the second floor on Wednesday but there were fears the building was structurally unsound.
State Crime Command director Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett said the man charged with murder had been a resident and was one of those who police initially feared had perished in the blaze.
“We will be alleging he was there when the fire was set,” he said on Wednesday.
Police are yet to ascertain the motive for the fire.
“The motivation behind the torching of the building is something we will look into,” Detective Superintendent Bennett said.
“It has been reported that there has been an accelerant used, and we have had that advice given to us and it will form part of the brief of evidence.”
Police are also still trying to find the owner of the boarding house.
Assistant Commissioner Peter Cotter thanked people who had offered food and accommodation for “some of our less privileged people” who had been left homeless by the fire.
“We all understand boarding houses are there for a specific reason, to help people who are down on their luck,” he said.
“Boarding houses play an integral part in providing suitable housing for people.”
The bodies of the three people found inside the building are yet to be formally identified.
Strike Force Tutt will continue to investigate the fire. It includes investigators from the State Crime Command’s Homicide Squad and the Financial Crimes Squad’s Arson Unit.