Bendigo Police are urging residents to remain alert to fire hazards this summer, despite a wetter-than-average view for the upcoming season.
Operation Safeguard – the annual police operation aimed at deterring or reducing the impact of intentional or ruthlessly lit fires across the state – has been launched this week.
Bendigo senior sergeant Brian Hanson said last year’s operation identified a number of people who lit illegal fires locally.
“These fires spread to some neighboring properties and they caused significant damage,” he said.
“We do not want a repeat of it this year, it is one thing to light a fire, but one has to understand the consequences that will follow.
“As part of the operation, we will have extra resources to patrol campsites or parks to make sure people are not doing the wrong thing.”
Victoria Police takes any forest fire that is intentionally or ruthlessly ignited seriously. Police will investigate and take action to catch those responsible when a fire is considered suspicious, whether it was intentional or a reckless act.
Assistant Commissioner Michael Grainger
Senior Sergeant Hanson said the operation was about fire preparedness and prevention.
“We are taking a proactive approach, trying to send out more community messages in relation to fire awareness and the dangers associated with fire,” he said.
“We work closely with the Country Fire Authority, Parks Victoria and DELWP to ensure we get this message out into the community.”
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner State Emergency and Support Command Michael Grainger said it was not time to be complacent.
“Summer in Victoria means the risk of fire is imminent,” he said.
“In hot, dry and windy conditions, fires can start quickly, move quickly and have devastating effects.
“Even though we have people deliberately lighting bonfires in the community, what worries them is the number of ruthlessly lit bonfires in recent years.”
Assistant Commissioner Grainger said police would target people who engage in careless behavior, such as burning off without permission, not extinguishing a campfire properly or using tools or machines during fire restrictions.
“Preventing forest fires is everyone’s responsibility – we ask the community to be aware of their activities during the summer period and act responsibly – it may be your actions that result in a devastating forest fire that causes loss of life and property,” he said.
Police said 21 offenses were discovered for ruthless fire-related offenses last bushfire season, with the most common burns, campfires or use of tools or equipment in the open.
There were 12 offenses for deliberately causing a forest fire between July 2020 and June 2021.
The introduction of the fire hazard period begins in the City of Greater Bendigo from December 6, Central Goldfields Shire and Mount Alexander Shire from December 13.
Macedon Ranges Shires fire hazard period has not been confirmed.
Seasonal Bushfire Outlook for Victoria released on August 26 identified potential for increased bonfire conditions for the 2021/22 fire season.
The risk is due to the fact that much of Victoria experiences average to above average rainfall in the winter, which is likely to result in continuous grass and crop fuel through most areas west and north of the Great Dividing Range.
Anyone found guilty of recklessly or intentionally causing a forest fire can risk significant fines and penalties of up to 15 years in prison.
Police remind society of their role in preventing forest fires and urge people to speak out and report any ruthless or suspicious behavior.
“Victoria Police take any bushfire that is intentionally or recklessly ignited seriously. Police will investigate and take steps to catch those responsible when a fire is considered suspicious, whether it was intentional or a reckless act,” said Assistant Commissioner Grainger.
Anyone who witnesses suspicious behavior while it is occurring should call Triple Zero (000) and anyone with information should contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential report to www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.
Victorians should also stay informed using the Vic Emergency app and regularly check the fire hazard assessment to monitor the fire risk in their local area.
Operation Safeguard runs until March 2022.
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