News

Firebugs targeted by local authorities

By Ashlea Witoslawski

Emergency service personnel are set to light a fire under those who continue to put the community at risk with unattended campfires and deliberately lit fires.

Since July this year, Forest Fire Management (FFMVic) firefighters have responded to more than 30 unattended campfires and suspicious incidents on public land in the Shepparton area.

FFMVic's Goulburn District manager Scott Edwards said this statistic was higher than average, putting firefighters and the community at risk.

“Campfires lit under the wrong conditions or if they are left unattended can easily turn into a bushfire,” Mr Edwards said.

“Last fire season, our crews responded to 340 fires in the Goulburn fire district with almost 80 per cent of them starting from campfires and other suspicions causes.”

CFA acting operations manager Peter Dedman said the high temperatures expected throughout the week, coupled with strong winds, would add to the dry conditions currently experienced throughout the region.

Mr Dedman said local authorities were on high alert as they continued to provide firefighting efforts interstate.

“We can always draw comparisons with our neighbouring states,” Mr Dedman said.

“If they’re ready to burn, unfortunately we're in a similar boat so it's even more critical for people to help us out and do the right thing.”

Mr Dedman said it was important for people in the community to avoid "reckless fires" which may include the use of equipment which caused sparks such as an angle grinder or farmers using machinery during the close of the harvesting season.

“We’re really asking our agribusiness people to really take the time to make sure their machinery is well maintained, they’re prepared, and they’ve got all the fire suppression equipment required,” he said.

Shepparton police Detective Senior Sergeant Will Watkins said police had investigated a number of cases in recent months relating to reckless fire behaviour and arson, particularly in bush locations.

“While everyone knows arson is completely unacceptable, there will also be a strong focus on reckless behaviour such as using angle grinders, farm machinery and faulty equipment on a day of Total Fire Ban, due to the rising prevalence of this behaviour,” Det Sen Sgt Watkins said.

Victoria Police launched Operation Safeguard in November this year, which focuses on police having a highly visible presence in fire-prone areas on days of elevated fire danger.

Det Sen Sgt Watkins said anyone found guilty of recklessly or intentionally causing a bushfire faced up to 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $37 000 or a combination of both.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility to be mindful of their activities during fire danger periods, otherwise your actions could result in the cause of a bushfire,” he said.

Anyone who witnesses behaviour that has the potential to cause serious fires, should immediately call triple zero (000).

Anonymous reports can be submitted to Crime Stoppers by phoning 1800 333 000 or online at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au