A new police strike force dedicated to identifying arsonists on the South Coast has been established.
Strike Force Cilantro is made up of local NSW Police officers, detectives and specialist detectives from the state crime command’s arson squad and is aiming to investigate fires in the Bega Valley that police believe have been deliberately lit or that are otherwise suspicious.
More than 12 fires in the Bega Valley have reportedly been set alight on purpose since March of this year.
With one as recent as Friday the 8th of September where a van was set on fire on Nethercote Road in Eden and young people were spotted in the area not long after the blaze was first reported.
That fire spread into a small grass fire that RFS crews were quick to extinguish but it’s these kind of incidents that police say can lead to larger grass or bushfires in our region.
“For us this is extremely concerning, after the events we went through as a community in the black summer,” Detective Sergeant at South Coast Police District, Justin Marks told East Coast Radio.
“The Bega Valley is very dry at the moment, we’ve had limited to no rain, and all it takes is an ember to go further into the bush and before we know it, we’ll have a significant out of control bushfire which has the potential to injure people and damage property,” he continued.
“We take these incidents very seriously, and we’re in the process of hunting those offenders down.”
Detective Sergeant Marks had this message for any offenders in the region.
“We will find you, we will arrest you and we will put you before the courts,” Detective Sergeant Marks said.
“These are offences that could lead to up to 25 year imprisonment if convicted, all it takes is one fire to hurt or kill someone and these people are looking at potentially murder charges,” he said.
“We’ve got a zero tolerance towards this kind of behaviour.”
South Coast Police are asking members of the public if they have any information, CCTV footage, or dashcam footage for the period between March 2023 and now, to contact Bega detectives on (02) 6492 9999 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
“Any information you do give us will be treated with the utmost confidence,” Marks said.
When asked if more needs to be done to educate people, and especially young people about the potential dangers of fire, Detective Sergeant Marks said “absolutely”.
“It is about educating people, and providing advice and guidance to people about the consequences of their actions,” Detective Sergeant Marks said.
“What may seem like something innocent about lighting a small fire and kids that have access to lighters and matches, parents and children need to understand the consequences of those actions,” he continued.
“Unfortunately, Strike Force Cilantro has seen that the spate of fires throughout the Valley we are looking into, people need access to a vehicle to get around, because they are spreading around remote parts of the Eden, Broadwater and Nethercote areas.
“We’ve taken on a proactive phase in relation to the strike force, we’ve got police on trail bikes, increased highway patrol officers from Sydney, as well as plain clothes officers and unmarked vehicles patrolling the area as well.
“We’re here for the community and we want to see the actions of these offenders or this offender stop because we don’t want to see or go through what we went through a couple of years ago.”
Images: NSW Police, NSW RFS