Bushfires: Firebugs fuelling crisis as arson arrest toll hits 183
David Ross Imogen Reid
January 7, 2020
Bushfires rage between the towns of Orbost and Lakes Entrance in east Gippsland.
More than 180 alleged arsonists have been arrested since the start of the bushfire season, with 29 blazes deliberately lit in the Shoalhaven region of southeast NSW in just three months.
The Shoalhaven fires were lit between July and September last year, with Kempsey recording 27 deliberately lit fires, NSW Bureau of Crime and Statistics and Research data shows.
Police arrested 183 people for lighting bushfires across Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania in the past few months. NSW police data shows 183 people have been charged or cautioned for bushfire-related offences since November 8, and 24 arrested for deliberately starting bushfires.
Queensland police say 101 people have been picked up for setting fires in the bush, 32 adults and 69 juveniles.
In Tasmania, where fires have sprung up in the north of the state and outside Hobart, five were caught setting fire to vegetation. Victoria reported 43 charged for 2019.
Melbourne University associate professor Janet Stanley said arsonists were typically young males, aged 12 to 24, or older men in their 60s.
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“There is no one profile, but generally they seem to have a background of disadvantage, a traumatic upbringing and often have endured neglect and abuse as a child,” Professor Stanley said. “They are often kids not succeeding in school, or they have left school early and are unemployed.
The boundaries between accidentally and purposefully are unclear because many arsonists don’t plan on causing the catastrophe that occurs. Often there is not an intention to cause chaos and the penalties for accidentally lighting a fire are far less than purposefully lighting a fire.”
Swinburne University professor James Ogloff said about 50 per cent of bushfires were lit by firebugs and impending fire seasons excited them. “They’re interested in seeing fire, interested in setting fire and quite often the information around how fires burn and accelerate excites them,” the director of the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science said.