Australia — The New South Wales Police Force is sending a strong warning to firebugs and arsonists that they will be caught and feel the full force of the law.
The State Crime Command Property Crime Squad Arson Team will now be investigating bushfires and anyone caught lighting fires will be identified and charged.
Detective Superintendent Nick Bingham, Property Crime Squad Commander, said the strength of the Arson Team has been increased to 17 investigators to provide a year-round response to both structural and bushfires.
The expanded role ensures we have detectives who are multi-skilled. In effect, there is now a one-stop shop for fire investigation, intelligence gathering, and training in relation to bushfires.
We also have at our disposal significant investigative resources including our Property Crime Squad Arson and Intelligence Teams and the Forensic Services Group to identify the cause of fires and those responsible, Det Supt Bingham said.
Hundreds of police have been trained in arson investigation and specialist bushfire investigation courses are undertaken by the Arson Team.
All suspicious bushfires will be investigated and those responsible will be charged and put before the courts.
With summer soon approaching police are reminding those considering lighting bushfires of the hefty penalties in place for arson offences. The NSW Bushfire Danger period commenced on 1 October and will conclude on 31 March 2009.
Under the provisions of the Crimes Act (NSW) 1900 and Rural Fires Act (NSW) 1997, the maximum penalty for deliberately starting a fire is 14 years imprisonment.
During the 2007/2008 bushfire season 18 adults and 55 juveniles were charged with a total of 92 offences.
The Rural Fire Service and New South Wales Fire Brigades work closely with NSW Police Force to investigate arson-related bushfires which increases the ability to identify and apprehend those responsible.
Det Supt Bingham said police encourage all people to be vigilant in reporting fires. We want people to report suspicious behaviour to police.
At anytime of the day or night, members of the public can contact Crime Stoppers to report suspicious activity.
We urge parents to keep a close eye on their childrens whereabouts, particularly during the coming summer and the holidays.
In hot, dry and windy conditions, it does not take much for fires to spread quickly.
I would especially warn young children against playing with fire because their actions could cause widespread damage, not only to native plants and animals, but also endanger lives; theirs as well as others, Det Supt Bingham said.