Police on arson alert as heatwave looms

POLICE investigating another suspicious blaze near Koroit are urging residents to stay vigilant as temperatures soar across the district.

A small grass fire on Friday was the second in two days, with police and Country Fire Authority (CFA) units also called to a fire near Tower Hill on Thursday.

Detective Senior Constable Jason Bourke, from Warrnambool’s criminal investigations unit (CIU), said police were investigating the cause of both fires and urged anyone with any information to come forward.

Two CFA units from Warrnambool and a Koroit and Woodford unit attended Friday’s outbreak along Southern Cross Road in Southern Cross at 1.20pm

The fire was on land between Woodford Road and Penshurst-Warrnambool Road, east of Tower Hill.

A spokeswoman for the CFA said the fire was relatively small and quickly brought under control.

Police and CFA were called to Thursday’s fire on the Tower Hill-Bushfield Road at Yangery at 5.15pm.

Detective Senior Constable Bourke said police were keen to speak to a cyclist who may have been in the area at the time of the fire. 

He urged the person to contact Warrnambool CIU or Crime Stoppers.

He said no property was damaged and no one was injured by either fire.

The investigation is continuing as the state government calls on the community to take action against arson as part of this year’s Crime Stoppers Bushfire Arson Campaign.

There were 16 suspicious fires in the Koroit area in the 2012 summer, with a Mailors Flat house destroyed in one. 

Until then, the so-called Koroit firebug had targeted mostly grassland.

Detective Senior Constable Bourke said with warmer weather expected to hit in the coming week, it was important people report any suspicious activity.

Warrnambool is set to hit 28 degrees on Monday, 39 degrees on Tuesday, 28 degrees on Wednesday and 32 degrees on Thursday.

Acting Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Bushfire Response Edward O’Donohue, who launched the arson campaign, said arsonists were responsible for a significant number of bushfires, some which had ended in tragedy.

He said the community had a part to play in stopping them.

“There must be a zero-tolerance approach to deliberately or recklessly-lit fires in our state, which means taking action to catch arsonists before their criminal behaviour has devastating consequences,” he said. 

The campaign, a joint initiative between Victoria Police and Crime Stoppers Victoria, arose from the final report of the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission, which called for a comprehensive, co-ordinated statewide approach to arson prevention. Mr O’Donohue said in some cases, members of the public were aware of a piece of crucial information that could help solve crimes.

“If you have concerns about a member of your family, a friend or a colleague, they might need help and I urge you to speak up,” he said. 

Victoria Police crime statistics indicate that there were 55 offences of intentionally causing a bushfire in 2012-13, up from 32 offences the previous year. 

“The seriousness of bushfire arson crime cannot be understated and Victoria has some of the toughest penalties in Australia for bushfire-related offences, including imprisonment for up to 25 years.” 

Anyone with any information should contact Warrnambool CIU 5560 1333 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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