Firefighter Col Bennett (left) and Casino fire station commander Glen Whitehead at the scene of a fire that broke out near the boundary of Casino Primary School.
Firefighter Col Bennett (left) and Casino fire station commander Glen Whitehead at the scene of a fire that broke out near the boundary of Casino Primary School. David Nielsen

Casino fires the work of kids?

CASINO firefighters fear children are responsible for nine suspicious grass fires in the town in almost as many days.

Casino fire station commander Glen Whitehead said that the fires – between Friday, November 27, and last Monday – put life and property at unnecessary risk.

He said there had been no lightning strikes or other explanation for the fires.

And any one of them could have had devastating consequences had they been lit during the current heat wave.

“All but one of the fires occurred in the cool of the early mornings or late afternoons, and were promptly extinguished by firefighters,” he said.

“There have been reports of kids running from the scene of some fires and police have attended.

“It is a real worry. The risk of these fires getting away is bad enough, but what if we had another major emergency or a motor vehicle accident while we were tied up with these fires?

“The 16 retained firefighters here do a fantastic job protecting the town, but unnecessary call-outs also take them away from their families, jobs and other commitments.”

The one fire lit during the heat of the day occurred shortly after 2pm on Saturday, November 28, and came dangerously close to engulfing Casino Primary School.

Firefighters arrived to find dense undergrowth ablaze on the riverbank directly behind the school.

It took 11 firefighters four hours to extinguish the fire and save the school.

The riverbank is overgrown with head-high elephant grass extending right up to the school buildings, and is also peppered with explosive camphor laurel and pine trees that remain scorched from the flames.

Casino Public School principal Margaret Hayes was deeply concerned about the fire.

She turned up as firefighters were battling the blaze.

“They did an excellent job saving the school, but I was worried the buildings were going to go,” she said.

“We have very little vandalism at our school but it is tricky as we don’t own that land.

“I think it needs to have a risk assessment undertaken with recommendations into the future.”

Firefighters were called out again that day to a grass fire at the golf course near the high school at 9pm, and once more at 9.40pm to another fire at the primary school.

During the 10 days firefighters were called to another six grass fires in the proximity of Casino High School. A tenth fire reported on December 4 at the high school turned out to be a hoax.

Casino High School principal Rob Murphy declined to comment and referred inquiries to the Department of Education.

“Any of our schools would be as concerned of the threat of fire as any other property owner would be,” a department spokesman said, but would not comment further.

The nine fires and the prank call have expended approximately 129 firefighter hours and tied up most of Casino’s firefighting resources for the equivalent of almost two full working shifts.

Senior Constable Michael Hogan said the fires were the subject of ongoing investigations.



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