Well, there was no ‘dry lightning’ was there?
A few days ago there were seventy or so fires burning across NSW. The results were catastrophic. Lives lost. Properties lost. Many of those fires are still burning.
There are a myriad number of natural reasons why a fire would start. Since I’m not a fire-cause scientist I can only lump all of those reasons under the general heading of Spontaneous Combustion. It is a natural phenomenon. It happens. Always has. Always will. Nature’s bush clean out so to speak.
Other things happen too. Human things. Accidental things. Cigarette butts get dropped in the wrong spot, broken shards of glass out in the bush act as magnifying lenses, the blades of mowers strike rocks and produce sparks, the wind blows embers out of campfires, electrical shorts happen in power lines. Unintended consequences. Totally accidental.
However, on television, when I look at the grime-weary faces of firefighters, when I look in the eyes of those who have lost all, when I listen to the words of the fire and emergency management authorities, and when I hear about the efforts of the police to ensure the personal safety of the members of their communities … I cannot help but ask that question that is not yet being asked.
How many of those fires were deliberately lit?
Naturally, it is my hope, that only a very small number were deliberately lit.
A short while ago, here in Queensland, at Peregian Beach on the Sunshine Coast, a fire roared up to the boundaries of the Peregian Springs residential estate. The residents who had to flee, the firefighters who had to fight the blaze, and the police who had to risk their own safety to ensure the rescue of others, were all subject to a terrifying experience. Who can forget the nationally shown footage of the ember attack as it was propelled across suburban streets by a strong and relentless wind.
That fire at Peregian Springs was deliberately lit.
The climate science is in. Long in. Our climate is changing. Our fire season, our natural-cause fire season is extending in length. The ferocity of fires is increasing. All of the authorities tasked with bush fire and emergency management deal with those facts. Deniers are short on the ground on that particular front line. The climatic conditions that contribute to the frequency of natural-cause fires are getting worse.
Naturally and accidentally occurring fires are hard enough to deal with, and yet we have people out there who seek to amplify the affect of all that, who seek to gain some sort of vicarious thrill by striking a match and standing back to observe the consequences.
So what can we as a society do about all of that?
I’m not talking about what do we as a society do with the perpetrators if identified and caught. I’m talking about how do we minimise the potential for it happening in the first place.
Education in our schools? Yes. It is probably already done. Also, there are obviously laws already in place that criminalise the deliberate starting of bush fires. Yet deliberate lighting still happens.
As a person who lives slightly on the centre-left of politics I am naturally wary of willingly lining up to give the Australian Government any more terrorism related powers, largely because I question who they target those powers at … refugees being a case in point.
However, when you look in the eyes of the firies, the traumatised residents, the police, the emergency service personnel, how could it not be said that in the case of a deliberately lit fire they were all exposed to to a rank act of terrorism.
I believe that as a nation we should identify gross acts of arson as acts of terrorism. Arsonists are not simple little breakers of the legal code. Their acts have the capacity to kill innocent people, their acts have the potential to burn out communities.
If bush fire arson is deemed to be an act of terrorism, and if it is subject to that kind of national law, then perhaps it might give the would-be perpetrators serious pause for second thought before the match is struck.
What do you think? What other approach, the thoughts above aside, might help to address the vexing problem of deliberately lit fires?
Note: The following information was supplied by another AIMN writer. You can read her full summation in the comments section below. As well, you can read her articles if you do an AIMN search.
“Proportion of deliberate bushfires in Australia
The Australian Institute of Criminology found that,”on average across the country, approximately 13 percent of vegetation fires are recorded as being deliberate and another 37 percent as suspicious. That is, for all vegetation fires for which there is a cause recorded, 50 percent may be lit deliberately.”
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