Australia — A married father of one allegedly lit a string of roadside bush fires in NSW’s north-east before being called out to extinguish them as a volunteer firefighter, police say.
Justin Broadbent, a 23-year-old NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteer who has been stood down, has been charged with starting at least 13 separate fires on roadsides outside Inverell, north-west of Armidale, since September.
In the worst incident, police allege he burnt out 80 hectares of private property after a fire he lit on Crown land spread to the neighbouring property, about four kilometres from Inverell, on September 3.
Greig Stier, the crime manager at New England local area command, said police were still examining as many as 43 other fires dating back to December 2007.
“We’ve looked at the fires since December last year and in early May or late April this year there seemed to be a bit of a pattern occurring,” Detective Inspector Stier said.
“Apart from [the September 3 incident], they are all small fires lit on Crown land beside roadways in a small area on the outskirts of Inverell.”
In most cases, the 23-year-old labourer allegedly lit the fire, left the area, then returned to extinguish the blaze as a member of the local RFS brigade, he said.
No one was injured in any incident but Detective Inspector Stier said the waste of time and resources was alarming.
“It is of a great concern, we’re risking the lives of not only RFS personnel but also the lives of many innocent people,” he said.
Detectives arrested Mr Broadbent at his house in Miles Street, Inverell, at 6am today, following a four-month probe involving Inverell police and RFS specialist fire investigators.
He was charged this afternoon with 13 counts of intentionally causing fire and being reckless in its spread. He was refused bail to appear at Inverell Local Court later today.
It is not known how long he was a volunteer with the NSW RFS, which is made up of more than 70,000 volunteers in more than 2100 rural brigades.
A shocked neighbour in Miles Street said the Broadbents had a young son.
“You could knock me down with a feather, I don’t know them that well but they were very quiet people,” said the woman, who did not want to be named.
“I knew he was a Rural Fire person because I’ve often seen the truck over there.”
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Mr Broadbent had been stood down, pending the outcome of court proceedings.
“RFS firefighters are trusted members of the community,” Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.
“Like other professions of trust, unfortunately, there are sometimes people who decide to break that trust.
“This is one member out of more than 70,000 hard working, professional, dedicated and highly skilled men and women, who devote millions of hours to protecting their communities every year.”