Tilligerry Habitat volunteers have been left fuming after two fires believed to have been deliberately lit within the bushland reserve sent years of regeneration works up in flames.
Police are investigating the suspected arson attacks that occurred a little more than one week within each other.
The latest fire, lit in the early hours of Sunday, November 26, destroyed more than an acre of habitat and a section of the boardwalk.
“You would not believe how angry we are,” Dorothea Willey, president of the Tilligerry Habitat Association, said.
“Twenty-one years of effort by so many people in the community who just wanted to see the bush returned after the devastation of sand mining now get faced with this – their work, time, effort up in flames like that.”
Ms Willey said it was “lucky” there had been campers near the habitat on the morning of November 26, otherwise the destruction could have been a lot worse.
The campers had been staying near the water off Peace Parade in Tanilba Bay, next door to the habitat.
They called triple-0 about 4am after noticing flames within the habitat.
After extinguishing the fire, lit in a gully near the Tilligerry Habitat’s information centre and administration building, the Rural Fire Service alerted the association to the incident.
The association contacted police who are now investigating.
CCTV footage has been reviewed, police said, however no suspects have been identified.
Port Stephens police Inspector Tony Townsend said the matter was being treated seriously.
“Lighting bushfires is a serious offence”, he said. “It’s a high priority for us, especially as it is bushfire season.
“This isn’t something we file away and forget. We review all bushfires and relay all instances of bushfires to a strike force operated by the State Crime Command.
“It’s something we take very seriously.”
Police were contacted by the association again on Monday, November 27 after a number of “interesting exhibits” were found near the spot where the fire is believed to have been started.
According to Ms Willey, a headless snake and a dead water bird buried with its wing protruding from the ground were found at the site.
Ms Willey said no other animals had been injured or killed by the fire. None of the habitat’s koalas appear to have been affected, she said.
A pair of yellow-breasted Robins are still guarding a nest full of eggs that sits within a tree that had been burnt by the fire.
The fire came on the heels of another which had been lit on the other side of the habitat, close to Caswell Reserve, on November 18.
While the first fire did not cause a lot of damage, not on the scale of a deliberately lit fire in 2016 which decimated two acres of plant life, it was another act in a line of arson attempts that habitat volunteers fail to see the motivation behind.
Mark Tobin, operational officer for the RFS Lower Hunter Fire Control Centre, called the act of deliberately lighting fires “just plain stupid”.
“It puts people’s live at risk – not just firefighter’s lives but the public’s, let alone the damage it causes to native habitat,” he said.
He added that the risk of an open fire spreading is currently high as vegetation, despite recent rain, is dry, something everyone needs to be aware of heading into the festive season.
Anyone with information about the habitat fires are urged to contact police. Phone Raymond Terrace Police Station on 4983 7599, Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or use the Crime Stoppers online reporting page nsw.crimestoppers.com.au.