Australian volunteer firefighter charged with lighting bushfires

Australian volunteer firefighter charged with lighting bushfires

Aussie bushfire
A National Parks and Wildlife crew member fights flames at Half Chain road at Koorainghat, near Taree in New South Wales state. (Darren Pateman/AAP Images via AP)

SYDNEY: Police in fire-ravaged Australia on Wednesday (Nov 27) charged a volunteer firefighter with arson, alleging he lit seven blazes before returning to help colleagues extinguish them.

Authorities allege the 19-year-old deliberately lit seven fires on the far south coast of New South Wales - the state worst-hit by a recent spate of devastating bushfires - between mid-October and late November.

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The man was allegedly seen sitting in a vehicle on Tuesday afternoon shortly before a fire broke out nearby.

"Police will allege in court that the man lit the fire and left the area before returning to respond to the fire as part of his duties as a volunteer firefighter," police said in a statement.

Residents defend a property from a bushfire at Hillsville near Taree, 350km north of Sydney
Residents defend a property from a bushfire at Hillsville near Taree, 350km north of Sydney AFP/PETER PARKS

A fire crew member fights part of the Hillville bushfire south of Taree
A Tuncurry fire crew member fights part of the Hillville bushfire south of Taree, in the Mid North Coast region of NSW, Australia. (Photo: Reuters/AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

He was arrested shortly afterwards and charged with seven counts of causing a fire and being reckless to its spread.

READ: Australian man accused of starting bushfire to protect cannabis crop

New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the teenager had been immediately stood down from his firefighting duties.

"Our members will be rightly angry that the alleged actions of one individual can tarnish the reputation and hard work of so many," Fitzsimmons said.

"This type of alleged behaviour is the ultimate betrayal of our own members, and of the broader community."

A bushfire rages in Bobin, 300km north of Sydney.
A bushfire rages in Bobin, 300km north of Sydney. The crisis has forced the cancellation of this week's Rally Australia around 100km further north on the east coast of NEw South Wales. (Photo: AFP/Peter Parks)

Six people have been killed, hundreds of homes destroyed and more than 1.5 million hectares scorched across Australia since early October.

Dozens of fires were still burning on Wednesday, including 129 in New South Wales. Large swathes of the state were facing "high" or "severe" fire danger conditions.

More than 1,800 firefighters were battling those blazes, 66 of which were uncontained.

Several people have been arrested in recent weeks for deliberately lighting fires, including a 51-year-old man accused of sparking a huge blaze in an attempt to protect his cannabis crop.

Source: AFP/aa

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