THE mercury might have taken a dive with the rain but the hunt for firebugs is heating up in Armidale.
Dozens of grass fires have kept crews from both the Fire and Rescue NSW brigade as well as the RFS busy in the past six weeks.
The RFS and police are investigating a number of suspicious blazes which have charred hot spots like the creeklands and vacant lots across town.
Armidale police Inspector Roger Best said there had been a marked increase in the number of grass fire reports.
“The locations of these fires are such that it may be mischief without necessarily evil intent,” he told The Leader.
“But what these people fail to understand is it’s so easy for a fire to get out of hand. And people will be held responsible and accountable for their actions and they will find themselves charged with significant offences.”
Inspector Best said police were looking closely at a number of fires.
“Certainly in many instances it’s clear these have been deliberately lit,” he said. “I don’t think we can simply write this off as children playing with matches because there may be intent behind these fires.”
Fire crews have been called out to almost all pockets of town at all hours with firefighters able to bring most of the blazes under control before they pose a problem.
Locals have played their part, too, reporting smoke or fires which have started where they shouldn’t have.
Inspector Best said lighting a fire carried significant penalties including jail or a fine.
“And I hope people are simply failing to realise how dangerous these fires can be,” he said.
“Because it could easily threaten property or life in a matter of minutes.
Anyone with information should contact Armidale police on 6771 0699 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Rain a brief reprieve for rural brigades
IT’S topped up the gauges but the rain has also dampened the spate of grass fires and given crews a welcome reprieve.
New England RFS Zone Superintendent Steve Mepham said volunteers would get a short-lived rest.
“We’re expecting the next week to 10 days to be reasonably quiet,” he said. “But the wind will dry it out quickly if it keeps up.”
The New England RFS was averaging about four fires a day throughout July and August but the last two days had extinguished any remaining blazes.
The heavy rain has also been scattered across the Liverpool Range zone, too.
Inspector Andrew Luke said it was a welcome sight when the heavens opened.
“It certainly will buy us some breathing space,” he said.
“It will provide the firefighters with some relief in what’s shaping up as a long drawn-out bushfire season.”
But the RFS is not out of the woods yet.
“The fact remains we’ve still got a large, dry body of grass area so it won’t take long,” Inspector Luke said. “There is no room for complacency.”