DELIBERATELY and recklessly lit bushfires featured in about two per cent of arson offences recorded across regional Victoria in the past five years, statistics show.
Data from the Crime Statistics Agency covering each financial year since July 1, 2010 show that out of about 2000 arson offences recorded in regional areas, 35 involved bushfires.
Ararat had the most bushfire-related offences with 11. Ten of those were recorded last year.
Six cases of someone causing a bushfire were recorded in Ballarat over the five-year period. Four of these occurred from 2010-12 – when no other regional areas recorded any bushfire offences.
Stawell had three arson offences that resulted in bushfires, Bairnsdale, Hamilton, Horsham and Bendigo two each and Mildura, Shepparton, Morwell, Portland and Port Fairy each recorded one.
Data was also collected for Geelong, Colac, Warrnambool, Daylesford, Wodonga and Sale, but no charges stemming from bushfires were laid in any of those areas.
The vast majority of recorded arson offences were for damage caused by fire.
In Geelong, 59 of 62 offences related to damage, while the remaining three fell into the category of “other fire-related offences”.
Some areas with high numbers of offences recorded no bushfire-related crime at all.
Wodonga and Morwell each recorded more than 200 arson offences over the five-year-period without a bushfire charge being laid.
The statistics come after a number of fires burned across the state over the holiday period, including one that destroyed 116 homes near the Great Ocean Road on Christmas Day.
Temperatures are set to soar again on Thursday and Friday. Many areas are forecast to experience temperatures in the mid-to-high thirties.
Since the Black Saturday fires of 2009, the CFA has been working with police and other agencies to try to raise awareness of the devastating consequences of bushfires, CFA state duty officer Ross Sullivan said.
Mr Sullivan said it was difficult to know to what extent that campaigning had driven down arson offences but the focus was on ensuring people remained vigilant.
“Report suspicious activity and be aware of your surrounds, don’t do something that’s reckless,” he said. “If you see something or your know something, say something.
“The fact fire can do so much damage in such a short amount of time should bring a strong message to people,” he said.
A Victoria Police spokesperson did not comment on the data but said police were focused on running its Operation Firesetter program in arson-prone areas on severe, extreme or code red days.
“The aim is to reduce the occurrence and impact of suspicious (intentional and reckless) bushfire arson activity during the high-risk period,” she said.
Anyone who sees see something suspicious is urged to report it to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or by visiting www.crimestoppers.com.au