Turn­ing the heat up on 70 fire­bugs

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - News - NICK HANSEN & JANET FIFE-YEOMANS

FIRE­BUGS are be­ing put un­der close watch ahead of a po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic bush­fire sea­son.

Po­lice are mak­ing ran­dom house calls on 70 of the state’s worst fire­bugs and putting some un­der covert sur­veil­lance

The ar­son watch list, in­clud­ing de­tailed pro­files on re­peat or “high risk” of­fend­ers com­piled by the Prop­erty Crime Squad’s Ar­son Unit as part of Strike Force Tronto, was sent to lo­cal po­lice com­mands.

Of­fi­cers then con­front known fire-set­ters, of­ten on blis­ter­ingly hot days when the fire risk is at ex­treme or cat­a­strophic lev­els.

“We knock on their door and tell them: ‘Hey, we know to­day’s an ex­treme fire risk and we’re watch­ing you’,” one po­lice source said.

Po­lice are also us­ing “proac­tive covert” spy tech­niques to catch ar­son­ists red­handed, as the bush­fire sea­son started early with al­most 90 blazes rag­ing across NSW last week.

Sources con­firmed that about 70 known fire­bugs had been pro­filed for sur­veil­lance.

An av­er­age 6310 in­ci­dents of ar­son a year were re­ported by po­lice over the past decade. But Strike Force Tronto’s sys­tem of pro­fil­ing py­ro­ma­ni­acs and covert strikes ap­pear to be slowly driv­ing those num­bers down — there were 5601 re­ports in the year to June 2017.

For fire­fight­ers, the en­emy too of­ten lies within.

Re­tained fire­fighter Joshua Lam­bkin, 28, was charged over four fires near Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Val­ley last month.

And vol­un­teer fire­fighter Jamie Michael Clark, 30, was charged last week with light­ing 18 fires which dam­aged homes in Tas­ma­nia.

Mean­while, a home­less man was charged last week with start­ing three grass fires in Berowra, and Ru­ral Fire Ser­vice in­ves­ti­ga­tors sus­pect that fires at Bea­con Hill in Syd­ney’s north and Rich­mond Vale, in the Hunter, were also de­lib­er­ately lit last week.

Prop­erty Crime Squad com­man­der De­tec­tive Su­per­in­ten­dent Mur­ray Chap­man said any­one caught de­lib­er­ately light­ing bush­fires would be put be­fore the court.

“Not only is de­lib­er­ately light­ing a bush­fire il­le­gal, it can be deadly,” Supt Chap­man said.

“Thou­sands of vol­un­teers, brave men and women, risk their lives each year to keep the com­mu­nity safe from the rav­ages of bush­fires and the last thing they need is for some­one to de­lib­er­ately light a fire.”

Po­lice Min­is­ter Troy Grant yes­ter­day said: “Ar­son is a hideous crime which can have dev­as­tat­ing im­pacts.

“If you en­gage in this kind of reck­less be­hav­iour, be warned — the po­lice, with the sup­port of our fireys, will be do­ing all they can to en­sure you are held to ac­count.”

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