A volunteer firefighter in Australia has been charged after allegedly setting multiple blazes, some of which he helped put out afterwards, as the country continues to battle one of its worst bushfire seasons on record.
Almost 130 bush and grass fires are burning around the state of New South Wales, and experts fear the crisis could get worse when summer begins next month. Queensland has also been impacted, with hundreds of firefighters deployed across both states.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, NSW police Detective Inspector Scott Nelson said the 19-year-old man – a volunteer for the Rural Fire Service – had been charged with seven counts of deliberately setting fires over a six-week period.
He was arrested on Tuesday night after allegedly lighting a blaze in the Bega Valley area, in the state’s southeast, that afternoon.
“As part of his duties as an (Rural Fire Service) volunteer he later attended that fire with other members and that fire was extinguished,” Nelson said.
The man has been released on bail.
“We have zero tolerance for this type of behavior,” Nelson said. “We all know the devastation these fires are causing.”
In a statement, the NSW Rural Fire Service said it has “immediately stood down a volunteer member who has been charged over an alleged arson incident on the south coast.”
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen firefighters going above and beyond in difficult and dangerous conditions,” said the service’s commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons. “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 behavior is the ultimate betrayal of our own members, and of the broader community. The community has the right to be disappointed but we should not let it detract from the incredible work that firefighters have done in protecting and saving so many homes during unprecedented conditions.”
The fires have also devastated koala populations in affected areas. This week vets were forced to euthanize a koala named Lewis, who had become a symbol of the destruction after a video of him being rescued went viral online.