267 charged over bushfires as police announce crackdown
SERIAL arsonists will face the full force of the law after NSW Police announced a crackdown on fire bugs in the wake of investigations which showed 716 fires this season did not occur naturally.
Of that number it is unclear how many were the work of arsonists and what was the result of negligent behaviour. Dedicated investigators will now trawl through evidence to separate the two.
More than 250 people have been charged since August 2019 with bushfire-related offences.
Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said the 19-year-old Strike Force Toronto would be expanded for the first time to zero in on serial arsonists.
"It is a genuinely disturbing announcement because a 20-year-old strike force has to be expanded," he said.
"It is unfathomable that anyone would deliberately light a fire in these conditions, but sadly this season we have had to deal with 267 reckless people for bushfire-related offences.
"The best evidence is fresh evidence and that is why we are appealing for people to see, hear or appreciate things that are out of the ordinary when it comes to bushfires."
Since August 1 last year police have charged 267 people for 328 bushfire-related offences. Of that number 55 people were charged with deliberately lighting bushfires.
126 people failed to comply with the total fire bans, 41 people threw cigarettes or matches on the ground and 70 minors were also charged.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said 40 police officers would be working on busting arsonists and hundreds of additional officers would also be deployed.
A data collection and investigation plan has been put into place to find out the cause of 1700 bushfires reported to police this season.
There will also be coronial inquiries into the tragic deaths of 24 people.
"Over the coming months there will be hundreds and hundreds of additional officers whether they be Police Rescue or scientific officers working through all of these crime scenes to try and establish the cause of these fires," Mr Fuller said.
Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said the taskforce would use a special electronic platform where residents can upload photos of property damage and other related evidence.
"We have today obviously set up a police link line on 131 444 which will allow those people to report their property damage," Mr Smith said.
"Later today we will release a new electronic platform that allows the fast path reporting of damage and the uploading of what we believe will be future viable images or videos which will assist the strike force track down anyone in serial arsonist behaviour."