After a recent spate of suspicious fires, district emergency services and authorities are asking people to be vigilant when it comes to reporting anything out of the ordinary.
CFA District 22 duty officer Pete Dedman said there had been a number of unexplained fires around the western edge of District 22 and in District 20 in the past couple of days, with no logical reason for them to have happened.
‘‘These particular fires fortunately caused minimal damage, however, depending on conditions, a fire can quickly become disastrous for communities,’’ Mr Dedman said.
‘‘They can have a negative impact on our volunteer firefighters who could have been working all day and are then called out to a fire during the early hours, which can fatigue them, affecting their work and personal life.’’
Mr Dedman said anyone could make a significant difference in stopping or catching people who deliberately light fires by being alert to what was going on in their area.
‘‘If they act almost like a Neighbourhood Watch and report things like suspicious vehicles or people staying around an area to police or Crime Stoppers, it can make a difference,’’ he said.
Victoria Police maintains a zero tolerance towards reckless behaviour this bushfire season and is running its annual Operation Firesetter, focusing on bushfire arson detection and prevention, which is activated during high-risk periods.
The number of offences recorded for intentionally causing a bushfire has risen from 18 in 2012-13 to 62 in 2015-16 and the number of offences for recklessly causing a bushfire had increased in the past four years, from 11 to 111 offences.
Anyone found guilty of recklessly or intentionally causing a bushfire faces a penalty of up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Lighting a fire on a total fire ban day also attracts a fine of about $37000 or up to two years in jail.
Reckless conduct could be a range of actions such as failing to properly extinguish a campfire, using cutting, grinding or welding equipment that emitted a spark, or lighting a fire on a total fire ban day.
Mr Dedman said people often showed a lack of situational awareness while doing everyday tasks such as welding — not realising how much of a risk that activity was during certain weather conditions — and inadvertently caused a fire.
‘‘There are lots of requirements for high-risk activities such as slashing or harvesting during the fire danger period and we encourage people to visit our website and check out our updated ‘Can I, Can’t I’ list that is easier to understand and covers all activities such as campfires and power tools,’’ he said.
Mr Dedman also mentioned gas powered scare guns required a permit to use and were the cause of two fires in the district in the previous fire season.
Anyone witnessing suspicious behaviour can phone 000 or Crime Stoppers on 1800333000, or submit a confidential report to www.crimestoppersvic.com.au