A spate of suspicious fires in the Mambo wetlands area has left the Port Stephens community fearing an arsonist or arsonists could be on the loose with the fire season still in its early days.
In the latest incident overnight Monday, fire which ignited in bushland at the back of Mariners Crescent burnt out in excess of 82 hectares of terrain in Salamander Bay.
Just one week earlier (Tuesday, December 4), fires believed to be deliberately lit at 6.30am and again at 11am burnt out nearly two hectares of Mambo reserve alongside Port Stephens Drive.
Port Stephens-Hunter Police District Chief Inspector Tony Townsend said police working with fire investigators would be treating this latest fire as suspicious.
“There doesn't seem to be an obvious natural cause,” he said. “Detectives are investigating and are currently reviewing CCTV footage from the area. We have notified the arson squad.”’
Lower Hunter Rural Fire Service (RFS) district officer Bert Pippin said that it was an unfortunate start to the fire season in Port Stephens and reminded the public not to be complacent.
“If anyone sees a person acting suspiciously in bushland they should contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 immediately.”
Mr Pippin said that 66 firefighters from RFS and Fire and Rescue spent the first 12 hours from 6.30pm Monday containing the fire burning in difficult to access terrain. No lives or property were lost, but wildlife, including koalas, were in the firing line.
“As of this morning [9am Tuesday] the fire is being controlled with crews monitoring the situation. The first priority for firefighters was to ensure the community was safe. We can only hope that any wildlife, including koalas, had the opportunity to flee the flames … it was a slow burning fire.”
Ron Land, secretary of Port Stephens Koalas, was not so optimistic.
“Without a doubt koalas have been lost,” he said.
“This is the third suspicious fire within a week placing the entire Port Stephens community at risk. Fortunately firefighters have been able to save lives and property but the cost to our koala population will be devastating.
“Anyone convicted of deliberately lighting fires causing damage to bushland or wildlife should be dealt with the full force of the law.”
NSW law states that a person who is guilty of intentionally causing and spreading a fire to vegetation on public land or someone else’s land will face a criminal conviction and penalty of up to 21 years imprisonment.
Mr Land said that the destruction of animal habitat from bushfires could force koalas and other wildlife to roam suburban streets looking for food. Anyone sighting injured or abandoned wildlife contact 0418 628 483.