Dragnet to catch district firebugs

THE Koroit district will be a hot spot this summer after Victoria Police yesterday launched a statewide operation focused on preventing and detecting bushfire arsonists.

Last summer, a firebug was credited with lighting 16 fires between January 2 and Good Friday in the Koroit area, which included a spate of four blazes within 12 hours and also destroyed a house.

Operation Firesetter, which is now in its third year, involves police undertaking highly visible patrols in bushfire arson hot spots and educating the community about bushfire arson during the summer fire season.

Dedicated police patrols will be boosted by specialist support resources drawn from the police operational response units.

Police will carry out targeted investigations into people who have been identified as high-risk arsonists.

Warrnambool police district Acting Inspector Steve Thompson said the focus of police attention would be high-risk fire days over summer, although he declined to comment specifically about the Koroit firebug.

“There will be a strong emphasis on prevention of deliberately lit fires and we look forward to doing this in partnerships with other agencies such as the Country Fire Authority, the Department of Sustainability and Environment and, of course, the broader community,” he said.

“It’s timely to remind everyone living in country areas to take the necessary precaution and preparedness steps ahead of the fire season and work on their fire plans. If anyone needs further information they can refer to the CFA website.”

Acting Inspector Thompson said a large part of Operation Firesetter was communication between the public, police and the CFA.

He said it was crucial that anyone who noticed suspicious activity should give that information to their local police station or Crime Stoppers (1800 333 000). Something as simple as jotting down a vehicle registration plate number could be a vital lead, he said.

Acting Inspector Thompson said police bushfire, arson and explosive liaison officers had been appointed across the state during the past 12 months to ensure best practise and consistency of response in relation prevention and detections of fires and investigation of suspicious fire activity.

Police played down talk about the Koroit firebug yesterday after a small fire at Yarpturk. The fire, in a tree stump on the Yarpturk School Road, had locals on edge, as the road was the scene of at least one blaze attributed to the arsonist last summer.

Detective Senior Constable Colin Ryan stressed that the fire was not suspicious and had resparked from the embers of a previous fire.

But Beth and Drew McGinley, the owners of the property where the fire occurred, were still jumpy when contacted by The Standard.

“There hadn’t been a fire there — we think it’s suspicious,” Mrs McGinley said.

The fire began about 1.45pm. The McGinleys weren’t home at the time, but neighbours doused the fire with buckets of water quickly.

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