Treat firebugs as major criminals – call by chief bushfire fighter

Map above: fires today. Note color code bottom right of country already burned this year.

 

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Police should treat firebugs as major criminals, says Matt Braitling, of Mt Doreen Station, the chairman of Bushfire NT, southern region.

He says except for the blaze at Numery Station, set off by lightning, all the massive number of bushfires in Central Australia in the past weeks were deliberately lit.

Meanwhile South Australia is sending fire fighters, and MLA for Braitling Adam Giles lashes out at the lack of preparedness for the what was long known would be a catastrophic fire season.

Mr Braitling says police efforts to catch firebugs are inadequate.

“It’s usually easy to pinpoint where fires start,” he says.

“Police need to set up crime scenes at these locations.”

They should deploy forensic teams, check for things like tyre marks and discarded rubbish, fingerprint items, use trackers and seek the assistance of people who have local knowledge.

“It’s attempted murder,” says Mr Braitling. “People will die.”

Police say the maximum penalty now is 15 years’ prison – but the arrest rate is very poor.

A spokeswoman says so far just four people have been caught – including one at the base of Anzac Hill in Alice Springs, and one east of the town by cattle station fire fighters.

Today a 36-year-old woman was will face court after police arrested her for lighting a fire in Whittaker Street, Alice Springs, last night.

Regional Counter Disaster Controller Acting Commander Michael White said the woman was the second person in two days to be arrested for lighting fires.

“A 25-year-old man was arrested in Imanpa on Tuesday and he too will face the courts.

“With the extraordinary amount of bushfires in the area over the past month or so, it is astounding that people are still deliberately lighting fires, especially when they could face up to 15 years jail,” A/Commander White said.

Fires which threatened the Desert Park and two town camps in Alice Springs yesterday have been brought under control.

“Fire fighters worked throughout the day and night containing the fire which reached the top of West Gap last night and threatened the communications towers there. It’s a credit to their hard work that no property or persons were injured and the fires have been contained.”

Overnight, additional crews were sent to the Kings Canyon area to help contain the large blazes in the area.

“Yesterday, we closed the Luritja Road and the Ernest Giles road due to significant  fires burning in the area. Additional resources have been sent into the area to help contain the blaze, however, fires continue to burn and motorists are being urged to avoid the area.

“This morning  we have also closed the access road through Boggy Hole between Ernest Giles Road and Larapinta Drive. This includes the access track to Ellery Creek and Tempe Downs area.

“We cannot overstate the importance of staying off these roads as we have already had a couple of close calls involving tourists ignoring the warnings.

“Last night our fire crews found a Wicked van abandoned near the intersection of the Luritja Road and Ernest Giles Road. Obviously this led to a concern for the welfare of the occupants and we were obliged to direct scarce resources to finding the people. They had in fact been transported to Kings Canyon resort by another motorist after their vehicle broke down.

“Once again we urge all members of the public to avoid travel on these remote roads while the fires continue to burn until further notice.”

There is a common assumption that the fires are lit by Aborigines – “black lightning” as they are sometimes called, says Mr Braitling.

He says the Central Land Council (CLC) arranged the burning of fire breaks earlier in the season in a very professional way.

“They’ve done a good job but somehow it’s created a monster.

“It’s burn, burn, burn.

“Now is not the time to burn.

“Is there anything planned to stop the burning?” asks Mr Braitling.

“There are a lot of individuals lightng fires.”

Many of them start on bush roads mostly used by Aborigines but there may well be non-Aboriginal people doing it as well.

The Alice Springs News Online has asked the CLC for a comment.

Other bushfire news:-

• The NT Government still has not responded to an enquiry by the Alice News about what kind of responsibility rests with the government for fires started on public roads under its control.

• The wildfires “are another symptom of a community that is losing a battle on crime, and an indication of the defiance that some members of the community show towards the law,” says Shadow Minister for Central Australia, Matt Conlan.

“There are reports of walls of fire 20 feet high, of animals burnt cruelly and cattle having to be put down, all as a consequence of the low acts of a group of fire-bugs in the community.

“Criminal elements seem to be taking delight at causing distress and destruction and it just has to stop.”

• Chief Minister Paul Henderson has announced the Government is preparing to send additional resources to support fire-fighting efforts around Alice Springs.

He said these would be in addition to six rural-based volunteer fire-fighters sent from Darwin to Alice Springs earlier yesterday.

Minister for Central Australia Karl Hampton today welcomed the deployment of 16 South Australian Country Fire Authority volunteers to help fight bushfires in Central Australia.

Mr Hampton says they and extra equipment should arrive by road later today, on top of the 11 extra personnel sent from Darwin to Alice Springs during the past 24 hours.

But Mr Giles says the horse has already bolted on the fires in Central Australia and once again Mr Hampton has turned up late to the party.

“Mr Hampton was advised months and months ago about the need for more resources to help abate the risk of fire,” says Mr Giles.

“There was an internal report undertaken which was never appropriately responded to by Karl and I believe his inaction has resulted in extreme disquiet from some Bushfire Council members.

“I think it also had an impact of the recent resignation of the previous senior officer down here.

“While additional resources are welcome Karl must apologize for taking his finger off the pulse once again.

“People who light fires on purpose should be condemned but so should those who should be responsible but choose not to act,” says Mr Giles.

“Spare a thought for the pastoralists who have had their property burnt out or the traditional owners whose country has been somewhat destroyed by fire.

“I know many Warlpiri people are very unhappy about what the fire has done to their country. I would have thought Karl as the local member might have looked after his own electorate but, no, he neglected the Warlpiri again.

“Senior Centralians, young children and asthma suffers may not have had to go through the recent bouts of respiratory complications that they have had to.

“Door knocking yesterday I spoke with a numbers of parents who had concerns about their children’s health and one lady had to take the day off work to look after her daughter who had bad asthma because of the smoke in the air.”

Posted Oct 4, 2011: Interesting story on the ABC about concerns in South Australia about buffel grass invading from the NT. The introduced grass species is a major contributor to the seriousness of the current bushfires. Today rain is providing relief. Search the Alice Springs News Online archive for articles about buffel grass.

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5 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Michael Dean
    Posted May 1, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    Just revisiting this story with the benefit of about five years, four years of which was under CLP rule: Has the extra resources that Giles accused Hampton of ignoring turned up? I would love it if they have, but maybe someone in the know can answer definitively. Fire season is not far away for us.

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  2. Rod Cramer
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    @1 Joe, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are one or more out there that fall into your experience, but most of the fires in Central Australia are lit by a different group of arsonists, no less irresponsible and dangerous, and even more frustrating. Your type are usually caught (eventually) and dealt with, ours are treated as a protected species. Unfortunately it may take more than one death to change the status quo – certainly no amount of financial cost and loss have changed anything.

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  3. Joe Roberts, psychologist
    Posted September 30, 2011 at 8:57 am

    People who set fires are mentally ill, and should be confined in mental hospitals. They typically are between 15 and 25 years old, white, come from broken homes, and have police records.

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  4. Julie
    Posted September 30, 2011 at 8:56 am

    The people regardless of colour that light these fires should be convicted of murder. They are murdering the land-animals’ and people’s livelihoods. Tie them up to a tree and see if they like the heat. It’s only a matter of time before these fires start taking houses, too. DO NOT LET THE PEOPLE WHO ARE CAUGHT OUT ON BAIL.

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  5. Hal Duell
    Posted September 29, 2011 at 8:15 am

    It’s all well and good to call for arsonists to be treated as the criminals they are, and to talk of 15 year penalties, but if those arrested get bail to go do it again, what’s the point of all the talk?
    I mention this because I understand bail was recently granted to two accused arsonists in Alice.
    And speaking of talk/talk, maybe now we can hear a bit less about how “country” is so sacred to Aboriginal people, and how they always were and still are born conservationists.

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