Juvenile firebug numbers on  rise
Juvenile firebug numbers on rise

Police say they are surprised by the number of children responsible for fires this past bushfire season.

Figures from Strike Force Vulcan, which ran from December to March, show 29 people were charged or cautioned with lighting bushfires, with most of those offenders under age 18.

Det-Sen. Sgt Craig White said 22 juveniles were cautioned or charged with bushfire arson offences, up from five the previous season.

All children were referred to the Department of Fire and Emergency Services arson division's juvenile and family fire awareness program.

There was a 312 per cent increase in the number of charges or cautions given out - from eight in 2012-13 to 33 last bushfire season.


A new model for the strike force resulted in police moving their attention from patrolling known firebug hotspots to getting out to bushfire incidents quickly to try to catch those responsible.

It also resulted in staff from State crime and metropolitan police districts being brought full-time into the strike force.

"The idea was to focus all our intelligence, really drive through all the information that the public had passed to us, and follow up from there and we got a lot from there," Det-Sen. Sgt White said.

"As a result of that we were able to increase our charge rate, obviously, which has resulted in quite a substantial reduction in the number of fires."

The 2013-14 season experienced a 23 per cent decrease in the number of bushfires Statewide, from 1622 to 1245.

Implementing the new model for Strike Force Vulcan also allowed police to confirm a long-held belief that fires resulting from children playing or experimenting with flames were also contributing to bushfire arson incidents.

"The figures are a confirmation of what we've expected but have been unable to prove with hard data," Det-Sen. Sgt White said. "We can see where the fires are and we can see clustering around schools and times.

"Over time we realised there was a pattern emerging, so we were aware of it.

"We were obviously a little bit shocked by the scale of it but we were aware of it.

"The stats really confirmed to us that children anecdotally have been known to experiment with fire . . . well that has pretty much proven that to be well and truly a fact."

Det-Sen. Sgt White said parents should spend time with their children and explain the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of fires.

"It is not our job alone and parents need to take some responsibility and ensure their children are educated properly in this area," he said.

'The idea was to focus all our intelligence, really drive through all the information that the public had passed to us.'" *Det-Sen. Sgt Craig White *

The West Australian

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