RELATED COVERAGE: Police appeal for witnesses of Chook Hill arson
A DISTURBING trend of arson and reckless fire behaviour has continued in Gippsland this summer, according to concerning statistics released by local authorities who are keen to stamp out careless and malicious offenders.
Ramping up their campaign against the “malicious” and “disturbing” behaviour, the joint-taskforce Bushfire Arson Campaign, led by Crime Stoppers, has made a renewed call out for community assistance this week and put perpetrators firmly on notice.
The hard-line message comes after inspections across Gippsland by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning fire crews in early January found 67 fires left unattended or unextinguished across Gippsland on a day of high fire danger.
Five fires were found lit the following day despite a total fire ban.
Meanwhile Latrobe Police Division Five Superintendent Jock Menzel said more than 30 cases of arson-related activity had been recorded this year in Division Five, which covers Latrobe City, Baw Baw, South Gippsland and the Bass Coast Shire areas.
“To some that figure would be surprising, but in a high risk area like Gippsland, our figures are quite similar to what we have seen here in the past,” Supt Menzel said.
Labelled by Crime Stoppers as “one of the highest bushfire risk areas in the world”, Victoria last summer saw 1444 suspicious fires recorded and about 400 people charged for arson-related offences across the state.
fires recorded and about 400 people charged for arson-related offences across the state.
On Tuesday the Latrobe Crime Investigation Unit set up an information caravan on Maryvale Road, in hope of finding witnesses to the lighting of two suspicious fires on Maryvale Road last week.
Crime Stoppers community manager Peter Brown pleaded with the public to act if “alarm bells go off in the back of the head” when witnessing any “unusual” behaviour in their area.
“Arson crime is difficult to solve. These crimes are like jigsaw puzzles, and every bit of information we get from the community is another piece to that puzzle,” Mr Brown said.
“The local community has a good radar for things which are not quite right… if you see something, know something, say something.”
With about 50 per cent of all fire-related cases starting from “suspicious” activity, he said authorities were keen to capitalise on the success of recent community awareness campaigns, citing a 300 per cent increase in public tip offs since Black Saturday.
“Every piece of intelligence fills in the gaps for police and could be vital. Remember there’s no harm done if nothing untoward has happened,” Mr Brown said.
The state-wide Bushfire Arson Campaign is being run together with Victoria Police, Country Fire Authority, DELWP, State Emergency Service, and Latrobe City Council.
It comes on top of ongoing work by the Gippsland Arson Prevention Program, which in conjunction with Latrobe City Council and Latrobe Valley power generators, launched a ‘Stop Bushfire Arson’ TV advertising campaign in late 2014.