CONVICTED arsonists face up to 14 years jail, New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma warned today.
He also confirmed police have put about 30 known firebugs under surveillance during the bushfire season.
Together with NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Phil Koperberg, Mr Iemma today visited the NSW Central Coast where three houses have been destroyed and 24 hectares of bushland burnt out since Sunday.
The cause of the fires are still under investigation.
“It is an unfortunate part of life that we have people who will carry out … dangerous acts that endanger lives and property,” Mr Iemma said.
“These aren’t acts of stupidity, these are criminal acts and will be met with the full force of the law.”
Mr Koperberg said the risk deliberately lit fires posed to the community could not be overstated, but forensic techniques greatly increased the chance that arsonists would be caught.
“People’s lives are endangered all the time,” Mr Koperberg said.
“We saw ferocious fire impact upon roads and streets and suburbs. The fact that nobody was seriously injured in this series of fires on the Central Coast is due to the hard work of the firefighters and indeed a good deal of good fortune.”
Mr Koperberg backed moves to monitor known arsonists.
“It’s a very appropriate measure to take given the degree of public threat which is occasioned by people who would act in this anti-social way,” he said.
Mr Iemma also said those who discarded cigarette butts in bushfire season risked fines of up to $5500.
There were reports on Sunday of a motorist throwing a cigarette butt out of his window north of Sydney on the F3 freeway which was closed while firefighters battled a massive blaze, he said.
“Whether it’s the stupidity of (throwing away) cigarette butts or a wanton act of criminality in deliberately starting a fire there are very tough penalties,” Mr Koperberg said.
The premier and fire chief also visited the Bryant family whose Central Coast home was destroyed, praising their courage and promising support.
Ray and Jeanette Bryant and their daughter, Suzanne Rochester, lost their Phegan’s Bay home in Sunday’s blaze.
The family today thanked the firefighters who risked their lives battling the flames, and said the important thing was that no lives were lost.
Mr Iemma told the family “your courage is an inspiration” while Mr Koperberg paid tribute to the philosophical way they were coping with their loss.
An information line has been set up for people who have lost property and require short term assistance.