New Zealand — More than a dozen fires in Whangarei – including Sunday’s Quarry Gardens blaze which came within 200 metres of houses – could be the work of a “sick” serial arsonist.
The latest fire destroyed a hectare of bush. It was the third at the gardens in Russell Rd since November 19.
Nearly four hectares of the popular tourist spot has now been wiped out in the three blazes and gardens manager David Muir has had enough.
“I feel numb … just sad that someone could do this,” he said.
The same person may be responsible for all three fires at the gardens, plus up to a dozen more in Whangarei reserves in the last year, according to Kevin Ihaka, the district council’s Rural Fire Service principal fireofficer.
All had been ignited in similar ways but he would not go into details.
“We have had a history of senseless fires (in Whangarei reserves) and we are researching back a year or so to see what sort of pattern emerges,” he said.
“I am concerned this person is targeting community property. It’s almost a crime against the rest of the community.”
He is urging anyone with information to come forward before a life is lost.
“I find it disturbing someone is sick enough to do this. Someone knows who is responsible and it’s time they said something.”
The culprit, if found, will be hit with a bill totalling more than $30,000 – the cost of fighting all three Quarry Gardens blazes – “and convictions and fines will be added to that”, Mr Ihaka said.
“Police are quite heavily involved now. We will be working with them and fire investigators and putting together a profile.”
Mr Muir was now “more determined than ever” to carry on developing the gardens.
He was this week in the process of winding up a public fund which netted about $5000 after the first fire wiped out 2.5ha in November. The cost of replanting that area was $20,000 – and the latest blaze would cost thousands more. No decision had yet been made on whether to set up another public appeal.
Hundreds of onlookers gathered at Kensington Stadium to watch Sunday night’s blaze, some with blankets and hot drinks.
Whangarei District Councillor Merv Williams, deputy chairman of the Quarry Gardens Trust, had seen the gardens go from “raw scrub and bare earth” to a botanical gem.
“It represents the vision of hundreds of volunteers and thousands of volunteer hours,” he said, and the fires were an insult to those people.
It was also a waste of ratepayers’ money, with about $80,000 a year going into developing the area while “tens of thousands of dollars” were donated annually by the public.
Meanwhile, Mr Ihaka said a restricted fire season would begin in the Whangarei district at midnight on January 20. From then open fires would require a permit.
* Fox family feared for their home as wind fanned flames their way
Annie Fox gathered her family photo albums and prepared to flee her Whangarei home as a bush fire raged 200 metres away.
The Quarry Gardens fire on Sunday night was “bloody frightening”, she said.
Her husband Dan backed the car up to their boat, which they were going to throw some valued items into, and positioned it for a quick getaway.
Their Russell Rd house in Kensington backs on to the gardens and with the wind blowing towards them they feared it would be engulfed.
A helicopter with a monsoon bucket and about 40 firefighters brought the blaze under control before it reached their property.
“We watched and watched and we were ready – that’s why the car is facing outwards,” Mrs Fox said.
“I was cursing, we could see the bright orange sky and hear the fire and the ash was falling on our deck. The difficulty was the wind was blowing our way.”
Her husband went to check on an elderly neighbour during the fire, while they also discussed their options with Liz Furey, another neighbour, when it was getting too close for comfort.
Ms Furey was also concerned, and annoyed after enduring three fires at the gardens in the last two months. “This was the closest of the three,” she said. “It’s just really annoying, there’s nothing you can do.”
Another neighbour said the culprits needed to be dealt to harshly. “Society cannot tolerate this sort of crap,” he claimed.
* Somebody local fits this profile …
Whangarei’s latest arsonist is likely to be local, male, aged over 15 and was probably among the crowd watching the blazes to feel the “power and glory” of the aftermath, a psychological profiler says.
Auckland University director of clinical psychology Ian Lambie said almost 90 percent of arsonists were male adolescents, or men aged from their 20s to 40s, Mr Lambie said. And because the same arsonist was suspected in all three fires at the Quarry Gardens it would point to somebody over 15.
“Younger (arsonists) are often part of a gang doing it because they are bored or wanting a bit of a thrill and whoever is doing it has nothing better to do,” Mr Lambie said.
“When they see and hear the fire engines and police coming down the road they want to hang around to see the reaction. Part of the thrill is waiting to see that and the attention it creates.
“But this arsonist is likely to be local and is likely to have been there watching the aftermath to get some reinforcement and for the power and glory from that.”
Because the arsonist had returned to target the same area he was likely to be 15 or over and was likely to have some level of misdirected or inappropriate anger or hostility.
Mr Lambie said recent television coverage of large fires elsewhere in the country may have sparked the arsonist back into action.