Warning to local firebugs

FED up police and firefighters have issued a stern warning to firebugs after a spat of deliberately-lit blazes have plagued the Coffs Coast in recent weeks.

They're constantly battling grass and scrub fires which are taking off rapidly in the extremely dry conditions choking the region.

Police say they will come down hard on the culprits, because of the threat they pose to life and property.

Sawtell Fire Station commander, Cr Keith Rhoades, said his crews had so far this month responded to as many as 27 grass and scrub fires.

“These are deliberately-lit fires, and people need to start waking up to themselves. The place is starting to dry out more and more each day,” Cr Rhoades said.

“Grassfires and bushfires don't start themselves at 11 o'clock at night. We're asking community members who see anything out of order to ring their local police.

“These fires shouldn't be lit to start with. If you light bushfires, that's called arson, and severe penalties are in place.”

Coffs Harbour Fire Station staff, meanwhile, have had to fight numerous grass and scrub fires this month along the Coffs Creek Walk.

Some of them, they say, appear to have been deliberately lit.

At Woolgoolga, fire station commander Ray Webb says his crews have repeatedly turned out to fires around the Woolgoolga Sports Oval near the high school.

“We've had a lot of minor nuisance fires lit there in the scrub,” Mr Webb said.

“The problem isn't only that it's an environmentally-sensitive area, but there's the chance of a fire escaping into the urban area of Sunset Lakes housing estate.”

Another bugbear, Mr Webb said, was the increasing number of callouts to backyard rubbish fires, which were illegal in built-up areas.

The Rural Fire Service says with no decent rain here for six weeks, conditions are ripe for bushfires to take hold.

“It's dry and windy, there's low humidity, and the grass is heavily cured,” Inspector Ron Collingridge said.

“A lot of the fires we're going to, apart from escaped burns, are starting where they shouldn't be starting.”

He also said many land- owners had told the RFS they intended to burnoff at the weekend.

“People they must give their neighbours 24 hours' notice of a burnoff, and keep a close eye on it. Also, they need to ring us at least an hour before they light up.”

The RFS phone numbers are: Coffs Harbour 6652 9380, and Bellingen 6651 5377.

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