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24 accused firebugs charged over horror bushfire season

A Hunter Valley man who ­allegedly emerged from bushland with soot all over his face is among the alleged firebugs charged this summer.

Police were on Greta St, ­Aberdare, when they allegedly saw Jake Brown, 23, emerge from the bush at 11pm on December 27 around the same time as a fire broke out in the area.

He was charged with two counts of intentionally cause fire and be reckless as to its spread, the second charge relating to another fire earlier in the afternoon in nearby Cessnock.

Jake Brown, 23, outside his Aberdare home on Tuesday. Picture: John Grainger
Jake Brown, 23, outside his Aberdare home on Tuesday. Picture: John Grainger

Brown's father Graham told The Daily Telegraph he believed his son was innocent.

"He had nothing to do with the fires … he went to look at the fire that's all. He had nothing to do with it,'' he said.

Communities have been devastated this summer by the suspected work of arsonists.

Police allege a 15-year-old used a cigarette lighter to set fire to bushes in Wyoming on the Central Coast in December and are investigating whether an earlier blaze which damaged a caravan was also linked.

He was charged with cause or set fire to the property of another, or Crown. Teenage firebugs are also believed to have lit bush at Turramurra on November 12.

A resident walks in front of South Turramurra homes which were bombed by fire-retardant on November 12, 2019. Picture: Sam Mooy/Getty
A resident walks in front of South Turramurra homes which were bombed by fire-retardant on November 12, 2019. Picture: Sam Mooy/Getty

On Saturday, a day of extreme fire danger, police believe a blaze which ripped through The Crest Reserve at the Sydney suburb of Georges Hall was deliberately lit.

More than 100 homes came under threat as dozens of firefighters, locals and even uniformed police grabbed hoses to keep the fire at bay.

On December 16 two men were seen fleeing bush north of Wollongong as a fire ripped through 2500 sqm of vegetation.

Water NSW and RFS crews had to be deployed to control it.

In Rappville in the state's north, locals feared for their lives as a firestorm destroyed more than 20 homes in October.

Police announced days later they suspected it was deliberately lit and Emergency Services Minister David Elliott labelled the fire "a bastard act".

In other instances police have laid charges over unauthorised fires that have got out of control, and fire breaches.

NSW Rural Fire Service crews mop up after the South Turramurra fire came close to homes in November last year. Picture: AAP
NSW Rural Fire Service crews mop up after the South Turramurra fire came close to homes in November last year. Picture: AAP

Seventy-one-year-old Christopher McMahon was allegedly burning grass on his property near Moruya on the far south coast on Boxing Day when he lost control of the fire.

He called the RFS as it burned through more than 40ha before it was brought under control. McMahon was charged with lighting a fire to clear land without a permit.

He was granted bail on a number of conditions including not to be in possession of matches or lighters outside of his home.

Emergency Services Minister David Elliott visits the devastated small town of Wingella just outside of Bundanoon on Sunday. Picture: David Swift
Emergency Services Minister David Elliott visits the devastated small town of Wingella just outside of Bundanoon on Sunday. Picture: David Swift

Commonwealth Bank lawyer Christopher Sun allegedly lobbed a firework over a fence in St Peters on to dry grass, starting a fire on November 14. Onlookers had to beat the flames out and police arrested Sun nearby. He was charged with three offences including handling explosives without a permit.

The town of Ebor in the Northern Tablelands was threatened by a fire which allegedly started when a man backburning to save his cannabis crop lost control of the blaze.

The Ebor blaze threatened the Ebor Falls Hotel Motel and ripped through over 3500ha before it was doused Picture: Supplied.
The Ebor blaze threatened the Ebor Falls Hotel Motel and ripped through over 3500ha before it was doused Picture: Supplied.

The fire ripped through more than 3500ha before RFS and Country Fire Authority crews could put it out.

COPS VOW TO CATCH LOWLIFE ARSONISTS

 

Arsonists and heartless looters have heaped misery onto NSW communities already suffering a bushfire crisis.

NSW Police have charged 24 people with deliberately lighting bushfires since November 8 and two males on the weekend for looting in south coast towns terrorised by the weekend fires.

Firebugs using everything from cigarette lighters to fireworks have ignited dry bushland.

 

 

Experienced fire investigator Mitch Parish, a former arson squad detective, said the high-profile nature of the current fire crisis played into the hands of "vanity arsonists", often social recluses who sought a rush from watching their fires spread.

"It's got to the stage where they're seeing all the publicity on the fires … and they get bit of a buzz because of all the attention," Mr Parish, who spent 20 years ­investigating fires, said.

"People get very emotional and passionate (about fires) and feel a lot of power because it's a very ­destructive force."

 

 

Fire and Rescue officers blacking out after a fire at the brick pit ring walk car park on at Sydney Olympic Park. Picture: Steve Tyson
Fire and Rescue officers blacking out after a fire at the brick pit ring walk car park on at Sydney Olympic Park. Picture: Steve Tyson

Fires that police believed were lit deliberately have razed homes, wasted precious firefighter ­resources such as water bombing aircraft and destroyed thousands of hectares of bushland.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith, who is in charge of the state's Arson Unit, said detectives were building profiles on known firebugs and running "covert" operations on the ones they fear will be tempted to light a fire.

"We have a commitment to the people of NSW to take action against anyone caught deliberately lighting fires," Mr Smith said.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said detectives were building profiles on known firebugs and running “covert” operations. Picture: AAP
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said detectives were building profiles on known firebugs and running “covert” operations. Picture: AAP

Along with firebugs, police are targeting looters who are preying on fire-hit communities across the state.

Wesley Thompson, 39, was so distraught to find his Catalina home near Batemans Bay raided on Monday that he could not bear to stay and count the cost.

"The sliding door was open, as soon as I put my head through the curtain I saw the TV was gone, then I saw the other TV was gone," Mr Thompson told The Daily Telegraph. "My mattress was standing up against the wall then I thought, I can't stay here I have to go and clear my head."

Houses turned pink after Video fire retardant was dropped on Turramurra. Picture: 7 News
Houses turned pink after Video fire retardant was dropped on Turramurra. Picture: 7 News

He dearly hoped the thieves had not bundled up a shoebox containing a letter penned by his mother before she died from ­cancer last year.

"They could have just picked up the shoebox," Mr Thompson said. "All day I've been thinking, well I don't remember seeing my fishing rods, they're not expensive but it's just those great things that you like."

Also in Catalina, Eily-Rose Stokes said she and her husband were hit by looters twice in as many nights.

"Just stole our generator from right in front of caravan door where we're sleeping, and tried to steal our (electrical) builder's ­trailer full of tools," she wrote on social media on Sunday.

On Monday she wrote "we have had looters come back for night … thankfully hubby locked the back of ute tool trays."

A NSW RFS firefighter undertakes mopping up at South Turramurra in November last year. Picture: Sam Mooy/Getty
A NSW RFS firefighter undertakes mopping up at South Turramurra in November last year. Picture: Sam Mooy/Getty

Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said he wanted magistrates to come down hard on anyone caught looting.

"We are not living in south central LA, we don't live in Syria we don't do this to each other. This is the south coast of NSW," Mr Elliott said.

"If judges and magistrates don't give an appropriate penalty to these offenders, I'd be quite happy to write to the Attorney-General and ask for an appeal until victims are satisfied."

KANGAROO ISLAND COLONY OF KOALAS DEVASTATED

Half of the koalas on Kangaroo Island - home to South Australia's only chlamydia-free koala population - are believed to have died in the devastating bushfires.

More than 25,000 koalas are thought to have perished in the blaze which has so far destroyed 56 homes and burnt through more than 160,000ha.

Adelaide wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk carries an injured koala rescued at a burning forest near Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island on Tuesday. Picture: AP
Adelaide wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk carries an injured koala rescued at a burning forest near Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island on Tuesday. Picture: AP

Last night a video emerged online of a group of teenagers with a carload of injured koalas they rescued from the island's ravaged Flinders Chase National Park.

 

 

 

 

WEATHER: FOOTHOLD GAINED

Rain and cooler conditions have allowed ­fireys to get a foothold on fires ahead of returning strong winds and heat later this week.

Bureau of Meteorology spokeswoman Rosemary Barr said that the rain has mostly fallen in the state's east, with a "concentration" in the southeast.

Emergency Services Minister David Elliott revealed the cool conditions would see fireys "hopefully contain" the Gospers Mountain mega-blaze.