Firebugs: why on earth do they do this?
ALTHOUGH we’re only on the cusp of Summer, there has already been a series of emergency-level bushfires in the local region, with at least one of them being deliberately lit by an arsonist.
A few weeks ago a 16 year old boy was arrested in connection with a large bushfire in Llandilo that damaged a number of properties and threatened livestock.
This last fire in Llandilo is part of an increasing trend in which young people, mainly boys, have been allegedly caught deliberately lighting bushfires on hot, dry and windy days.
Professor Michael Kennedy, a former Detective in the NSW Police force who now lectures at Western Sydney University, investigated firebugs for more than 20 years and says the profile of an arsonist is always hard to define.
“It is difficult to profile an arsonist because the reasons why they do it can vary,” Professor Kennedy said.
“It could be someone who has an obsession or ostracised, they might get some sort of buzz from lighting a fire, but then again you get desperate people who have a business and they set it on fire because they want some kind of financial gain from it,” he said.
“There are a whole range of reasons.”
“Most of the time lighting a bushfire is apart of a much bigger mental health or social problem,” he said. According to Professor Kennedy, one of the most ‘traditional’ stories is of a firefighter who lights a bushfire being called to help put it out.
“Those types of people usually have very little social status and lighting a fire gives them recognition in their community and social groups,” he said.
After someone is arrested in connection with a fire, the next challenge comes with convicting them, but according to Professor Kennedy, this can be easier said than done.
“It is an art form rather than a science,” he said. “You’ve got to try a lot of things and you need to rely on a large amount of evidence.”
“These days there are things like CCTV, information from the public, watching who turns up as the emergency services show up on the scene.
“Fire services and emergency services all have applied knowledge that they learn whilst on the job. They know what signs to look out for in connection to a fire,” he said.
Bushfires can trigger specific emotions and quite often after an arsonist lights a fire the public calls for the culprit to be dragged through the courts and ‘locked up for good’ but Professor Kennedy says that isn’t always the best method of punishment.
“You can’t have one size fits all, you have to go into these things with a very open mind. There are a whole range of factors that come into it. Check up on their medical records, see if there is abuse in the family and understand what their home-life is like, because usually when someone lights a fire it is the result of a much bigger issue,” he said.
If you see anyone lighting a fire you can call emergency services on 000 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.