Melbourne crime interactive: track the areas where bushfires have been deliberately lit

Melbourne crime interactive: track the areas where bushfires have been deliberately lit

22 Deceember 2016

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Australia —    A three-man arson rampage in Broadmeadows has pushed it to the top of the state list for bushfire offences over the past five years.

The trio of teenagers from Dallas – two 18-year-old men and a 17-year-old boy – started 34 fires in the Dallas region between November last year and February this year.

Five of the grass and scrub fires were lit within an hour of each other in January, but none of them managed to take hold and were extinguished within 15 minutes.

A total of 325 charges were laid against the trio, including 102 for recklessly causing a bushfire. They were found guilty following court appearances earlier this year.

That meant that between April 2015 and March 2016, almost 45 per cent of the 231 “cause a bushfire” offences in Victoria occurred in one postcode – 3047, which incorporates Broadmeadows and Dallas.

You can see how many cause a bushfire offences have been recorded in your area over the past five years by using our crime data interactive.

Use the map to find your postcode, or enter your suburb in the text box and choose the option Arson > Cause a bushfire.

The number of offences for causing bushfires in Victoria has jumped five-fold over the past four years, and it being driven by people who have lit multiple fires, such as the trio from Dallas.

The analysis by The Age comes as police launched an operation cracking down on arsonists as temperatures are set to soar over the Christmas break.

Other areas that feature bushfireoffences list in the past five years included:

Tatura and Mooroopna, near Shepparton, where a woman was alleged to have started more than 40 fires in 2014 and 2015.
Ashwood, in Melbourne’s south-east, where 18 deliberately-lit fires were recorded last summer, which police blamed on two men
Sunbury, where a deliberately lit fire on Christmas Day last year burnt through 100 hectares of scrubland and forced the evacuation of residents
Upwey in the Dandenongs, where a man faced 17 counts of lighting bushfires in 2011.

Victoria Police assistant commissioner Debra Abbott said police were taking zero tolerance towards intentional or reckless behaviour.

“Deliberately and recklessly lit bushfires and grassfires can destroy communities, they can destroy infrastructure, livestock and human lives,” she said.

Operation Firesetter focuses on arson detection and prevention in vulnerable communities during severe, extreme and code red fire bushfire warnings. It will also look at “the detection and monitoring of high risk persons of interest”, she said.

People found guilty of causing bushfires, whether it is recklessly or intentionally, can face up to 15 years ail. Lighting a fire during a total fire ban comes with a fine of around $37,000 or up to two years in jail.

With Victoria just about to enter into a holiday heatwave, Victoria Police are urging people to be “mindful of their activities”.

“You might not think dropping a cigarette butt or operating machinery on a total fire ban day is an issue,” assistant commissioner Abbott said. “But dozens of Victorians are currently living with the destructive consequences of these exact situations.”

But as “cause a bushfire” offences have risen, so has arson detection thanks to the information provided to police about suspicious behaviour.

If “something doesn’t look right, Victoria Police really want to know about that,” she said. “If you see something, say something.

“Anyone who witnesses suspicious behaviour as it is occurring needs to call Triple Zero (000).”

“We’ve got a lot of grass growth around this year and we know the season is now drying out across the state. These are the sort of areas that are quite vulnerable to negligent fires.”

Campfires, burn offs, operating machinery, grinding equipment, car exhausts and cigarette butts are common causes of accidental fires.

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