Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Of the 60,000 bushfires annually around Australia, about half are believed to be arson."


Ascribed to Manaku of Guler
Folio from the Bhagavata Purana series as No. 105
c. 1740
(from the publication Pahari Masters -
Court Painters of Northern India
by BN Goswamy and Eberhard Fischer)

From the ABC

22 October, 2013 1:37PM AEDT

Why do people deliberately light bushfires?

By Jeannette McMahon (online producer )

What makes people, especially children and teenagers, light fires that can result 
in death, injury and destruction?

As a blackened Hunter counts the cost of the bushfires that raged through 
many parts of the region over the past week, it appears one of the major fires 
was deliberately lit.

The Heatherbrae fire, which started in Hank St, threatened homes, burned 
outbuildings, caused evacuations, the closure of Newcastle Airport, traffic chaos 
and damage to the electricity network.

Hundreds of fire crews, as well as water-bombing helicopters, spent days 
bringing it under control but more than 5000ha of bushland was burnt.

Now two boys aged 11 and 15 have been charged over the blaze and are
to face court, with one under house arrest.

Another recent fire in Dudley's Glenrock reserve, which caused a scout camp
to be evacuated, resulted in a 16-year-old boy being charged with lighting it. And 
two teenage girls, aged 12 and 13, have been charged with lighting a grassfire 
in Sydney.

Some researchers are trying to work out what makes people start bushfires, 
and 1233 ABC Newcastle's Paul Bevan spoke to Dr Janet Stanley from
the Monash Sustainability Institute.

Janet believes high unemployment rates among 15 to 17-year-olds are
a factor, as she says "young, bored" males tend to be the main culprits in lighting 

"We simply don't understand enough about why youth commit arson," she says.

"About 40% of arson events are started by youth, we think about 90% are 

Dr Stanley says limited intellectual capacity and anger can be factors, as can 
"sheer boredom".

According to Janet younger children don't necessarily set out to light a big, 
horrific fire, but just like playing with fire and are fascinated with it.
However, when teenagers commit arson she says it's usually associated with
a whole range of anti-social behaviour, making it more easy for schools and 
communities to spot "troublemakers" who could be responsible for suspicious 

Of the 60,000 bushfires annually around Australia, about half are believed to be 

"So it's quite high," Janet says.

"One of the problems is there's so many fires and the resources just aren't put 
into investigating these fires."

She says only about one percent of arsonists are ever caught and convicted, 
and recorded incidents of arson have grown an incredible 2000% since 1974.

"Let's put the resources into finding out who these people are, and getting
a higher conviction rate and higher intervention rate," she says.

Janet believes another factor is that bored, disaffected teens often live in 
outlying, semi-rural areas close to large areas of bushland.

"We find that most arsonists light fires within about four kilometres of where 
they live," she says.

"So they do it in their local area."

Keeping these disaffected teens at school, giving them skills and helping them 
find jobs are long-term ways of tackling the problem, Janet says.

But at present she says our knowledge about acts of arson and how to prevent 
them is extremely poor, with few resources given to understanding the problem 
in Australia.

And she's concerned that there are few places where juveniles or adults can get 
treatment or intervention to prevent their fire-lighting behaviour.

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