‘Scary, disgraceful’ move as fire risk looms
THE Queensland Government has shelved its successful anti-firebug taskforce as the state braces for what is predicted to be one of the worst bushfire seasons on record.
Taskforce Vulcan was the state's only joint bushfire arson investigative unit between police and the fire service, and the decision not to renew it after seven years ahead of catastrophic fire conditions is being slammed by experts as a "backwards step".
It was dedicated to preventing and investigating bushfire arson, leading to a number of arrests in Central Queensland - including the alleged arsonists responsible for last year's devastating fires near Gracemere.
Its demise comes as southeast Queenslanders are being told to prepare for catastrophic fire conditions today - possibly the worst in a generation.
In the past year alone there have been 1055 reported incidences of arson in Queensland, and fire experts warn up to half of all bushfires could be maliciously lit.
But Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said it had no plans to reactivate the taskforce during the upcoming bushfire season, a move that has angered Gracemere residents impacted by last year's fires, arson experts and the Opposition.
"Each type of emergency service working separately isn't going to cut the mustard with addressing the problem of arson," National Centre for Research in Bushfire and Arson director Dr Janet Stanley told The Courier-Mail.
"It just seems a very backwards step to me if they're closing it down."
Business owners at Gracemere in Rockhampton said yesterday they were fearful of another catastrophic bushfire season after they were forced to flee last year.
Two men in their 20s were charged for setting the fires. Police at the time cited Taskforce Vulcan for its work on the investigation.
The men are due to be sentenced later this month.
"It's scary and it's not going to be very good if we don't have (Taskforce Vulcan) around this year," one Gracemere business owner said.
"We've had no rain for months and months ... we can't afford to have another fire like last year."
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said it was an "absolute disgrace" the taskforce had been cut.
A Queensland Fire and Emergency Services spokeswoman said Taskforce Vulcan had ended because it had "achieved its objectives".
Queensland Police Service said it had an Arson Investigation Unit.