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Two fight for life after Vic bank attack

AAP logoAAP 18/11/2016 Melissa Meehan and Rachel Gray

Two people are fighting for life and four others are being treated for burns after a man set himself on fire, causing an explosion at a crowded Melbourne bank.

The 21-year-old man walked into the Commonwealth Bank in Springvale carrying a container of flammable accelerant and started a fire at 11.30am on Friday.

Black smoke and flames quickly took hold, trapping customers and staff inside before brave passers-by helped them out of the bank through a rear fire exit.

Six of the worst injured, including the man who started the blaze, were rushed to The Alfred hospital suffering serious burns.

One remains in a critical condition, one is critical but stable, one is serious but stable and three others are listed as stable.

Witness Ashley Atkin-Fone was in a nearby lane when he heard a loud explosion followed by people screaming.

He said after the explosion "this kid comes running out, screaming his head off, with skin hanging off everywhere".

"I ran across the road to Optus, grabbed the fire extinguisher and tried to put the fire out," the civil engineer said.

Mr Atkin-Fone entered the bank but people had already been evacuated from the back exit as the fire alarms rang out.

Police say it's "too early to tell" what the man's motive was and are yet to rule out the incident was terror-related.

It's understood the badly-burnt man was arrested by police in a laneway at the rear of the bank shortly after the explosion and was heard yelling that the bank would not give him money for food.

He has been placed under police guard in hospital.

Twenty-one other people - including a toddler and person in their 80s - were also taken to hospital for breathing problems.

Inspector Jacqui Poida says police know little about the man or his motives for starting the fire because they are yet to question him.

"He had some sort of accelerant with him in a container," Insp Poida told reporters at the scene.

"Somehow that accelerant was lit inside the bank. He set himself alight with that fire."

She said the arson squad was investigating.

CFA operations officer Paul Carrigg said there was "evidence of an explosion" and it was "amazing" no one had lost their life.

Nearby businesses including the National Australia Bank and a Caltex petrol station closed for the day shortly after the blast.

The explosion occurred one day after Islamic State released a propaganda video encouraging terror attacks in Melbourne.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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