Ten-year high for people charged with lighting fires in bushfire danger periods
There were 227 charges for lighting a fire on a total fire ban day or in a fire danger period last year, an increase of more than 17 per cent compared to the previous year and more than five times the number recorded in 2010-11.
While most of the fires raging in Victoria this week are believed to have started because of lightning strikes, Emergency Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said some of the 350 blazes burning on Wednesday would have been caused by people ignoring the volatile conditions.
"It wouldn't all be lightning. There would have been some foolish behaviour.
"It was a total fire ban day and a total fire ban day is a restrictive day, a warning day not use farm machinery. It's against the law to use those that will start a fire such as grinders, welders, so on, so you hope people have taken strong heed of that."
Total fire ban days are declared when conditions are considered dangerous, while the Country Fire Authority declares fire danger periods for each shire or council at different times in the lead up to the fire season. It depends on the amount of rain, grassland curing rate and other local conditions.
More charges for intentionally causing a bushfire were imposed last year than at any other time in the past decade, while the number of charges for recklessly lighting a fire was the second-highest recorded in the past 10 years.
The total number of arson offences - which does not include charges for lighting fires on days of fire ban or during fire danger periods - fell to the lowest number recorded since 2004-05, with almost 500 fewer charges than in 2012-13.
While most of the serious blazes last bushfire season were caused by lightning or other accidents, such as falling power lines, police believe the most destructive fires of 2012-13 were caused by recklessness, including a deadly fire that started at Aberfeldy, in Gippsland, and fires that destroyed property in Dereel, near Ballarat, and Donnybrook, north of Melbourne.
Police have previously warned that the use of power tools such as farm equipment, grass mowers and slashers is banned on days of total fire ban or high bushfire risk.
Those found guilty of recklessly causing fires could be forced to pay the costs of fighting the fire and foot the damage bill.
The Age Newspaper Dec 19th 2014