With the skies of the Bega Valley choked by smoke this week comes news that one of those called on to put fires out has been charged with arson.
A NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Bega Valley volunteer has been charged following an investigation into a spate of deliberately lit fires in the region.
Between Thursday, October 27, 2019 and yesterday (Tuesday, November 26 2019), there have been seven fires in the Bega Valley, which police believe to have been deliberately lit.
“Officers from South Coast Police District, in consultation with the Financial Crime Squad’s Arson Unit, have been investigating the circumstances surrounding the fires under Strike Force Laurina,” police report.
“Investigators have also been assisted by NSW RFS fire investigators.
“As part of their inquiries, police observed a man sitting in a dual cab ute next to the Bega River about 5.20 pm yesterday.
“A short time later, investigators noticed smoke and a pile of trees and grass on fire, which was reported to the NSW Rural Fire Service.
“About 7 pm, police attended a fire shed in Tarraganda and arrested a 19-year-old man.
“Police will allege in court that the man lit the fire and left the area before returning to respond to the fire as part of his duties as a volunteer firefighter.
“The man’s vehicle was also seized for forensic examination.
“The man was taken to Bega Police Station, where he was charged with seven counts of cause fire and be reckless to its spread.”
He was granted strict conditional bail to face Bega Local Court today (November 27). NSW RFS has issued the man a ‘Stand Down from Membership’ notice.
One local RFS volunteer Region Media spoke to said “all of us are gutted” by the news.
NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says the Service has a zero tolerance to arson.
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen firefighters going above and beyond in difficult and dangerous conditions,” the Commissioner says.
“Our members will be rightly angry that the alleged actions of one individual can tarnish the reputation and hard work of so many.
“This type of alleged behaviour is the ultimate betrayal of our own members, and of the broader community.
“Arson is a dangerous and criminal act. It isn’t tolerated by society. And it’s not tolerated by the RFS, or our members.
“The community has the right to be disappointed but we should not let it detract from the incredible work that firefighters have done in protecting and saving so many homes during unprecedented conditions.”
A number of fires sprung up in yesterday’s testing conditions across the Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, and Snowy Monaro, all are currently listed at the ‘Advice’ threat level on the RFS website. Dry lightning strikes are thought to be responsible for starting most of the fires.
The RFS says most of the smoke that has blanketed the region this week has come from fires burning in Victoria and Northern NSW.
For updates and advice on preparing for bushfire, check the NSW RFS website.