A SUSPECTED “firebug” operating in the Tamworth district has added to the concerns of a summer bushfire threat after several grass fires burnt out hectares of land near the Moonbi Ranges recently.
Senior emergency services staff have raised concerns that an arsonist is to blame for the fires lit there over the past month and warned that next time lives could be at risk.
While reports have indicated some hazard reduction burns escaped the control of private landholders around the Northern Tablelands in particular over the past month, Tamworth Rural Fire Service (RFS) Superintendent Allyn Purkiss said the issues in the Moonbi Ranges were not the results of escaped fires.
He said the fires were found to be started closer to road-sides, not in the usual hazard burn locations, after investigators pinned them down to those points.
One of the fires, believed to be deliberately lit on the afternoon of Friday, August 17, caused strict traffic control along the New England Highway as heavy smoke aggravated driving conditions.
Mr Purkiss said if they hadn’t arrived when they did for that particular fire, nearby homes could have been threatened.
“If a fire gets into those (Moonbi) hills, it could take days to stop,” he said.
“But we stopped that one within three to four hours.”
Mr Purkiss has asked for the community’s assistance in identifying anyone who might be starting the fires along the highway deliberately.
Oxley Local Area Command police also issued a warning that an arsonist has been active in the Moonbi area over the past few weeks after numerous fires were reported to the RFS.
Oxley duty officer Inspector Jeff Budd said the command regarded the activities of arsonists as extremely serious and the risk to innocent people and property was obvious.
In relation to the recent incidents, Inspector Budd said detectives were investigating available evidence with a view of identifying the offender.
“If anyone in the community has seen any activity in or around the Moonbi area, then I encourage them to get in contact with police,” he said.
“As the fire season gets well under way, we rely heavily on the public to assist us with suspicious and illegal activity.”