In the firing line

By Jackson Russell

MITCHELL police will put fires caused by recklessness and negligence under the spotlight this summer as part of Operation Safeguard.

This summer will be the second year for the annual operation, which aims to deter or reduce impact of intentional and recklessly lit fires across Victoria.

Police will patrol areas of high fire danger in greater numbers on days of total fire bans or high fire ratings.

Last summer, during one of the worst bushfire seasons on record, 26 charges were laid for fire-related offences due to reckless behaviour.

The most common causes of recklessly lit fires include burning off, campfires, car or machine exhausts, and the use of tools such as angle grinders, welders, slashers and harvesters.

Mitchell Police Service Area Acting Inspector Michael Layton said police would particularly focus on landholders and recreation areas.

“The reality is that recklessly or negligently lit fires can cause as much damage as ones that are deliberately lit and they don’t discriminate,” he said.

“Those recreation areas, the areas with increased fire risk, we’ll be looking to patrol areas like the Mt Disappointment State Forest. Those camping areas through there and areas with high fuel load including some of our forested areas in that patrol space.”

Acting Insp Layton said police would be proactive in their patrols.
“We will be proactively connecting with the community to ensure they’re aware of the risks and to limit the potential for fires getting away from people through ignorance,” he said.

“There is definitely a community engagement focus from us – we don’t want the fires full stop and we will be patrolling and engaging with the community in every effort to prevent that.”

While police will be proactive in their community engagement, the penalties for people responsible for a fire getting out of control are substantial.

Lighting a fire on a total fire ban day can attract a fine of up to $39,000 or up to two years in jail, while anyone found guilty of recklessly or intentionally causing a bushfire faces a penalty of up to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Anyone who witnesses suspicious behaviour as it is occurring should call triple zero and anyone with information should contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.

Operation Safeguard runs from mid-November 2020 until March 2021.