An Australian volunteer firefighter is one of nearly 200 people who have been charged with fire-related offences in New South Wales in the last two months.
Blake Banner, 19, was charged in November with seven counts of causing fire and being "reckless to its spread" on the south coast of Australia.
He is one of 183 people in New South Wales who have been charged for fire-related offences since November as bush fires continue to rage across the state, and one of 24 accused of deliberately lighting bushfires.
The 19-year-old was allegedly spotted leaving a location as a fire spread rapidly and arrived at a fire ground to help put out a blaze before any of his fellow volunteers on another occasion, according to the Daily Mail.
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Banner pleaded not guilty in December. The case has been adjourned till later this month.
At the time charges were laid against Banner he was immediately stood down from his firefighting role, with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service calling his alleged actions the "ultimate betrayal" to its members.
NSW RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said members would be "rightly angry" that Banner's alleged actions could tarnish the reputation and hard work of so many people.
"This type of alleged behaviour is the ultimate betrayal of our own members, and of the broader community," he said.
"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."
NSW Police Minister David Elliott warned this week that New South Wales was a "tinder-box situation" and anyone caught putting the community at risk — whether they meant to or not — would end up before the courts.
Elliott said that residents would have to be from "Mars in a bubble" not to realise how dangerous it was to break the current total fire ban.
There was one frequent "unfortunate repeat offence" when it came to arson — motorists tossing cigarettes out of windows.
Of the 183 people charged in NSW, 47 had allegedly discarded a lit cigarette or match on land. Another 53 people were alleged to have failed to comply with a total fire ban.
HARSH PENALTIES FOR FIREBUGS
Charges and penalties relating to bushfires in NSW include:
- Damaging property with the intention of endangering life – up to 25 years imprisonment;
- Manslaughter – up to 25 years imprisonment;
- Starting a bushfire and being reckless as to its spread – up to 21 years imprisonment;
- Lighting a fire when a total fire ban is in place – up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a $5500 fine;
- Not putting out a fire that you have lit – up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a $5500 fine;
- Failing to comply with a bush fire hazard reduction notice – up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a $5500 fine;
- Light or use a tobacco product within 15m of any stack of grain, hay corn, straw or any standing crop, dry grass or stubble field – up to a $5500 fine.