– People caught recklessly igniting bushfires could be forced to pay the cost of extinguishing the blazes, potentially totalling millions of dollars, as part of a Victoria Police crackdown.
Arson Squad head Jeff Maher said there had been a growing trend in the number of fires caused by reckless behaviour last summer.
The most devastating was the Aberfeldy blaze in Gippsland, which killed one man, burnt more than 85,000 hectares and destroyed 21 houses, 35 sheds and 11 vehicles.
It is understood that the Country Fire Authority and Department of Sustainability and Environment spent tens of millions of dollars fighting the blaze.
A 75-year-old man was arrested over the Aberfeldy blaze and is due to reappear at the Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court for a committal hearing on May 2nd, where he is facing five charges, including recklessly causing bushfire and causing a fire to be lit without written authority in a fire-protected area during a prohibited period.
Detective Senior Sergeant Maher said fires were recklessly being lit by people using angle grinders, welders, farm machinery and burning off during days of heightened fire danger.
He said as part of the crackdown, police would seek the costs of controlling and extinguishing fires from people found to have recklessly lit the blaze.
Senior Sergeant Maher said police would use the Sentencing Act to seek fire suppression costs, which he said might lead to civil lawsuits after the initial criminal proceedings.
But Senior Sergeant Maher said such costs and court action could be avoided.
CFA Operations officer Graham Lay, who is based with the Victoria Police Arson Squad, said the costs of extinguishing fires were astronomical and warned there would be more prosecutions against people lighting reckless fires.
Mr Lay said firefighters continued to see people using welding and grinding equipment during the fire danger days, as well as people driving through paddocks with high grass, which had the potential to ignite a big inferno – Jared Lynch


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