An Australian firefighter has been charged with arson in what the fire service described as the ‘ultimate betrayal’ as fires continue to ravage the country’s east coast.
Blake William Banner, 19, a volunteer at the Rural Fire Service (RFS), is facing seven counts of alleged arson in an area south of Sydney, New South Wales.
He allegedly lit a fire on Tuesday afternoon next to the Bega river, left the area and returned to fight the fire for the RFS.
Banner was arrested within two hours of the fire, and charge with causing the fire along with six others since October 17.
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons called it the ultimate betrayal: “Our members will be rightly angry that the alleged actions of one individual can tarnish the reputation and hard work of so many.
“This type of alleged behaviour is the ultimate betrayal of our own members, and of the broader community.”
New South Wales (NSW) on Australia’s east coast is suffering with a bush fire crisis, with six people killed, 600 homes destroyed and almost 1.7 million hectares of land burnt through.
NSW Police said they had been investigating a “spate” of fires believed to have been deliberately lit in the Bega Valley since October.
On Tuesday, officers spotted a man sitting in his car next to a river in the area. Shortly afterwards, they saw smoke and a pile of grass and trees on fire.
A police statement said: “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.”
An Australian Institute of Criminology report from 2005 said that a firefighter who commits arson is usually motivated by “a desire for excitement or as a way of gaining attention and recognition.”
“A firefighter craving stimulation or activity may start a fire before reporting for duty. There are cases of firefighters who have started a fire, reported it and attended the fire with their unit in the hope of being seen as the hero who saves the community.”
Dozens of fires are still burning, including 129 in New South Wales. Large swathes of the state are facing ‘high’ or ‘severe’ fire danger conditions.
The fires have wiped out much of the koala population, leading to fears of extinction.