A 47-year-old man appeared in Oxford Crown Court on Saturday, accused of setting fire to the South Oxfordshire District Council building and two other properties last week.
Andrew Main, a farmer from Roke Marsh in the Wallingford area, was charged with one count of arson with intent to endanger life, and two counts of arson reckless as to whether life was endangered.
He was arrested on suspicion of arson on Thursday morning. Gas canisters were discovered at all three locations, and a burnt-out vehicle was found in the foyer of the council building, where the fire is thought to have started.
According to the BBC, the fire damaged around 85 per cent of the council building.
Oxfordshire chief fire officer Dave Etheridge described the fires as the “biggest challenge” to the fire service in more than a decade.
Etheridge told the BBC: “We had gale force winds, coupled with freezing temperatures, coupled with a huge fire – absolutely one of the most challenging nights we’ve had in Oxfordshire.”
At the height of the blaze, 27 crews from the Oxford Fire and Rescue Service were called to tackle the fires, which started within ten minutes of one another.
The fires broke out early on 15th January, with the police called to the fires at the council building and a nearby funeral parlour at 3.24am. The police were later called to a third fire at a thatched cottage in Quakers Corner at 3.41am.
The fires have had a serious impact on the South Oxfordshire District Council’s ability to operate effectively over the past few days. John Cotton, the Council’s leader, told the BBC that the planning department “has pretty much disappeared”, adding that “it’s going to be very hard to provide any services that are provided directly from here […] Happily that isn’t too many in the short term”.
Cotton said that the departments for Environmental Health and Housing were also seriously damaged.
The council’s IT system will take around a week to restore.
No injuries were reported, although 30 people were evacuated from nearby buildings. One person affected was Jean Gladstone, 80, who managed to escape unharmed from her thatched cottage on Quaker’s Corner.
On Monday, 72 employees returned to work for the first time since the fire.
Main was remanded in custody, and will appear at Oxford Crown Court again on 30th January.
In October 2014, a student suffered burns after a kitchen fire broke out at an Oxford Brookes student residence.
Oxfordshire Council did not respond to our request for comment.