Guest essay by Eric Worrall
h/t JoNova, and thanks to Eric Elsam – Duelling headlines; How much did arson contribute to this year’s deadly bushfire season?
‘Like nothing we’ve ever seen before’: police step up bushfire investigations
Forty specialist police officers will work full-time on bushfire investigations to zero in on and profile would-be arsonists as the state continues to face the worst bushfire season in history.
The 19-year-old Strike Force Tronto has been investigating suspected arson cases since the horror season kicked off, and will now expand its remit to investigate all bushfires.
“A data collation and investigation plan has been developed to review the cause and impacts of the more than 1700 bushfires already reported to police; and consider the 12,000 fires recorded by the Rural Fire Service since August 2019,” police said in a statement released on Friday.
Of those 1700, police say that 716 were deliberate lit.
“They range from very minor behaviour right up to intentional arsonist behaviour – those that are listed as accidental right through to intentional,” State Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith, said on Friday.
He would not say what number of those were a result of arson or the deliberate lighting of fires.Read more: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/like-nothing-we-ve-ever-seen-before-police-step-up-bushfire-investigations-20200124-p53udv.html
The ABC, Australia’s government owned broadcaster, is having none of the arson narrative.
The truth about Australia’s fires — arsonists aren’t responsible for many this season
Updated 18 Jan 2020, 2:21pm
Only about 1 per cent of the land burnt in NSW this bushfire season can be officially attributed to arson, and it is even less in Victoria, the ABC can reveal.
The world has been shocked by the scenes of devastation as the unprecedented destruction of Australia’s horror bushfire season rages on.
The disaster has sparked significant media speculation that many of the blazes were deliberately lit.
While it is true firebugs remain a legitimate and serious threat, we crunched the numbers provided by police and fire authorities around the country.
The results might surprise you.
NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Inspector Ben Shepherd said earlier this week lightning was predominantly responsible for the bushfire crisis.
“I can confidently say the majority of the larger fires that we have been dealing with have been a result of fires coming out of remote areas as a result of dry lightning storms,” he said.
In Victoria, where about 1.2 million hectares has burned, only 385 hectares — or 0.03 per cent — have been attributed to suspicious circumstances.
…Read more: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-11/australias-fires-reveal-arson-not-a-major-cause/11855022
Is arson a major contributor to the severity of Australia’s 2020 bushfires? For now I’m going with a qualified “no” – I don’t believe arson contributed significantly to the severity of this year’s fire season, though a lot more investigation is required to turn this qualified “no” into a firm conclusion.
For starters, the two competing viewpoints are to some extent comparing apples to oranges. Number of fires vs area burnt.
Fires deliberately lit tend near large towns tend to attract a rapid response, so it is no surprising deliberate fires are quickly extinguished.
On the other hand, fires deliberately ignited in densely inhabited regions could do disproportionate harm, even if only a small area is burnt before the fire is extinguished.
The police officers quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald are shocked at the number of fires lit by people this season, though they didn’t reveal how many of those fires were actually arson attempts vs arrogant disregard for fire restrictions.
There are also possible secondary effects from Arson – if firefighters are busy running around extinguishing deliberately ignited fires near towns, they aren’t free to fight fires in more remote locations.
Is Arson a serious problem? Absolutely – I think firebugs should be charged with attempted murder. It is horrifying that human lit fires have alarmed the police. Fires started by arsonists in inhabited areas could have done a lot of damage, despite only burning a comparatively small area of land.
But the real culprits which have made this year’s severe fires possible are the hot, dry weather, the irrational official persecution of individuals attempting to keep their properties safe, which has needlessly put many lives at risk, and political mismanagement of Australian woodlands and spineless appeasement of green anti-burn activists, which has allowed outrageous fuel loads to accumulate, turning much of Australia into a vast tinderbox.
We’ll always have arsonists, just as we shall always have to live with the possibility of lightning igniting fires. But there is a lot more we could be doing, to reduce the damage and harm fires do, regardless of their cause.