MORE than 30 people have been charged with deliberately lighting bushfires in NSW since October, prompting the launch of an anti-arson strike force.
Some bushfires start accidentally but about one-in-three (35 per cent) are believed to be started by arsonists, police said in a statement yesterday.
The Rural Fire Service (RFS), Fire and Rescue NSW and police have formed strike force Tronto to investigate deliberately-lit bushfires as emergency services prepare for a spike in arson rates over the school holidays.
Of the 32 people charged with “bushfire related crimes”, 17 were juveniles, Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said.
“We know that as we move into the school holiday period there is an increase in activity and arsonists, particularly young people ... go out there and simply light fires.”
Mr Scipione said the strike force wouldn’t just target arsonists.
“When we’re going through days where we see fire bans people need to realise it’s an offence, it’s a crime to light a fire.”
“It’s punishable by up to 12 months imprisonment and a $5500 fine.”
Police resources will also be diverted into bushfire arson prevention on high-risk days to assist the RFS.
Strike force Tronto will trial a new system designed to predict arson trends.
The Arson Trends Analysis System uses mapping technology to determine if an arsonist is at work, police said.
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said there have already been more than 5200 bush and grass fires across NSW this year.
He said the drier weather this summer could lead to more bushfires than in the past few years.
Penalties for deliberately lighting bushfires in NSW
* Damaging property with the intention of endangering life – up to 25 years imprisonment
* Manslaughter – up to 25 years imprisonment
* Starting a bushfire and being reckless as to its spread – up to 14 years imprisonment
* Lighting a fire when a total fire ban is in place – up to 12 months imprisonment and or a $5500 fine
* Not putting out a fire that you have lit – up to 12 months imprisonment and or a $5500 fine
* Failing to comply with a bush fire hazard reduction notice – up to 12 months imprisonment and or a $5000 fine
* Lighting or using a tobacco product within 15 metres of a stack of grain, hay corn, straw or any standing crop, dry grass or stubble field – up to a $5500 fine
(Source: NSW Police Force)