A Woombah Rural Fire Service volunteer holds the echidna burnt to death at New Italy by one of several fires started by an arsonist throwing fire bombs into the scrub as he drove along the Pacific Highway.
A Woombah Rural Fire Service volunteer holds the echidna burnt to death at New Italy by one of several fires started by an arsonist throwing fire bombs into the scrub as he drove along the Pacific Highway. Cathy Adams

Firebugs' actions enrage firies

POLICE and the NSW Rural Fire Service were placed on high alert yesterday afternoon as a suspected firebug ignited 11 separate fires along a 100km section of the Pacific Highway south of Woodburn.

Among the casualties was a badly burned echidna, found dead by Woombah brigade volunteers just south of New Italy.

“This is a low mongrel act,” declared one volunteer, who asked not to be named.

Meanwhile, Woodburn SES controller Jim McCormack said the law should come down heavily on whoever was responsible for the fires.

“These people have got no idea about the problems they cause,” he said.

“The law should take the sternest action. They should lock the bastards up and throw away the key.”

The first fire was reported at the Gap Road intersection, south of Woodburn, about 3.15pm, followed by another two fires on the other side of the highway just south of New Italy.

It wasn’t long before more fires were reported along the highway near the Iluka turn-off, and then some time later reports of further fires at Glenuggie, south of Grafton and near the Wooli Road turn-off.

RFS incident controller Superintendent Dave Cook said one eyewitness reported a vehicle leaving the scene of a burning paddock south of Grafton.

Police last night confirmed they were looking for a red ute and the motorist who reported the suspicious sighting.

Supt Cook said the RFS reacted quickly to the growing problem and attacked separate blazes with helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and bulldozers. Fire crews from Coraki to Gulmarrad, near Maclean, were involved in fighting the fires along the Tabbimoble stretch of the highway.

“We have declared a Section 44 emergency and have poured resources into these fires,” he said last night.

“But we are confident of containing them by Saturday.”

To help protect firefighters from traffic the highway was closed soon after the first fires were reported. It was reopened about 5pm.

Supt Cook said yesterday’s emergency followed another four suspicious fires along the Summerland Way last Sunday.

“Those fires were evenly spaced as well,” he said.

The highway firebug’sactions come on top of a busy fortnight of fire-fighting activity on the Far North Coast, with emergency situations recorded in the Tweed, Byron, Ballina, Kyogle, Tenterfield and now Richmond Valley and Clarence council areas.

Another fire near MtNeville in the Clarence Valley was being brought under control yesterday.

Supt Cook said blazes in the Kyogle Shire had all been contained yesterday afternoon, but the work of volunteers in the area was not over.

Crews would have to stay on the scene for at least a week until the fires were extinguished, unless there was significant rain between now and Christmas Day.

“We’re crossing our fingers for rain,” Supt Cook said.

The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast rain and the chance of a thunderstorm for the Northern Rivers today and showers tomorrow .

A forecaster from the BoM said he expected between 20 and 30mm to fall across the region today. The rain is expected to clear up early next week.



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