Worrying arson pattern emerging in Nambucca

Nambucca Heads Fire and Rescue Captain Rob Couchman said he's seen this pattern of smaller opportunistic fires before.
Nambucca Heads Fire and Rescue Captain Rob Couchman said he's seen this pattern of smaller opportunistic fires before.

There have been half a dozen deliberately-lit fires around Nambucca Heads in the past six weeks. With rain not coming as forecast, bush dry as dust, and days heating up, this spate of arson attacks is making emergency services crews nervous.

The most recent case of arson was on Fathers Day, when Nambucca Heads Fire and Rescue had to close off the boardwalk along Wellington Parade after fire caused damage to one of the support pylons.

Two weeks ago a fire with five ignition points was lit along the bush track behind the cluster of Nambucca schools as kids returned from sporting activities.

Photo by Nambucca Heads Fire and Rescue

Photo by Nambucca Heads Fire and Rescue

Prior to that, three fires were recorded in the space of a week: at the Lions Lookout above Main Beach, in the Gordon Park rainforest, and in bushland between Bellwood Rd and Marshall Way.

Police investigated after each incident, but have no suspects. They're urging anyone with information to come forward.

Chief Inspector Guy Flaherty said the incidents so far have been minor, but only because a swift response by local fire crews stopped them before they became a bigger threat.

We're really worried that the impact these kind of fires can have come Summertime could be catastrophic.

Chief Inspector Guy Flaherty

A large-scale taskforce - Strikeforce Tronto - was rolled out in Kempsey a fortnight ago to target those responsible for 13 deliberately-lit bushfires in the area. Three girls, aged 12, 13 and 14 were arrested as a result of information gathered.

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And the NSW government has just increased minimum jail terms for anyone who deliberately lights a bush fire from five to nine years.

At this point it's not known whether any of the fires in Nambucca Heads are connected. But Nambucca Heads Fire and Rescue Captain Rob Couchman has a gut feeling that what we're seeing here is the "start of a worrying pattern".

When you have other fires in town, you can often see opportunistic ones crop up - it sparks the thought process. Then you start to see an escalation from the small fires to more thought-out ones.

Captain Rob Couchman

If there's another case of arson this weekend, he'll be more confident of there being a firebug on the loose.

It's not the first time Rob has seen this happen in Nambucca Heads.

Every few years a child will explore their 'fascination with fire' - which is why Fire and Rescue has an Intervention and Fire Awareness Program ready to roll out.

"We're not there to get kids in trouble, we're there to help educate," he said.

He said it's usually parents who are first to identify an issue.

Rob said parents' vigilance should also extend to the whereabouts of matches, lighters and other smoking implements in their homes with statistics showing the majority of fires started by kids are from homes with one or more parents who smoke.

His crew routinely visit schools to introduce a range of fire education programs from 'Get Down Low and Go Go Go' for Preschool-aged kids, to 'using fire as a tool' for Level 1 students.

"The message we give kids is to treat fire like it's a chainsaw. It's a very useful tool, but if it's treated recklessly, it can get out-of-hand," he said.

On September 14, RFS are holding their Get Ready Weekend at Gordon Park from 9am-2.30pm, which will include activities for kids as well as information for adults about preparing for the upcoming fire season.

Other similar events are planned for the weekend of September 14-15 at RFS brigade bases around the Valley.

There is also a Community Safety Precinct Committee meeting on next Tuesday, from 10am, at the council chambers.

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