8 January 2019

Car fires in the Capital: bored kids, criminal gangs, or more?

| Lachlan Roberts
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The shell of a car set alight on 21 December on John Crawford Crescent in Casey. Photos: George Tsotsos

A researcher has warned there may be many reasons behind the spate of car fires across Canberra, ranging from bored kids looking for a thrill to criminal gangs competing against each other, as Canberra’s summer of car fires rolls into the new year.

During the first seven days of 2019, eight more cars were torched across Canberra, adding to the staggering count of 56 burnt out cars last month. So far this year, firefighters have put out car fires in Pearce, Giralang, Hughes, Lyneham, Majura, Red Hill, Phillip and Scullin.

Police are baffled by the increase in car fires and are unable to say why there have been so many vehicles set on fire and if any investigations are under way.

But what drives someone to steal a car and torch it a short time later? Is it a group of bored teens with a passion for arson, or people looking for a quick way to claim car insurance? Or is there a group stealing cars and selling parts before torching the remnants?

Australian Institute of Criminology Research Manager Matthew Willis said pyromania and a pathological fascination with fire were unlikely reasons for the spike, as the disorder is rare and did not explain the extraordinary increase in the number of car fires.

“One reason could be the thrill of stealing a car, having a joyride and then the thrill of destroying it,” Mr Willis said. “It could be because they are destroying evidence after committing another crime.

“You also can’t rule out insurance fraud but when there does seem to be a spike in car fires, you have to look at different reasons going on, including copycats or even potentially gang-related. There might be a larger group of people doing this and in that case, they might be doing it as a gang initiation or potentially competing with each other in a really perverse game.”

The burnt remains from a car fire at Gold Creek School on Christmas Day.

Mr Willis generally expects an increase in fires heading into December and January but admits this season has surprised him.

“In my work with bushfires, we certainly know that once school holidays come around with a long, hot summer, there is an increase in fires,” he said. “We kind of expect an increase of fires in December but not to this scale.

“We have seen up to four car fires in a given day which is a fair bit of activity and movement. That suggests to me that there is more than one person responsible.”

If anyone is aware of any vehicle fire, deliberate or otherwise, during the fire season, ACT Policing is urging them to report it on Triple Zero immediately.

Anyone with any information about a deliberately set fire should contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or via their website. Information can be supplied anonymously.

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Blen_Carmichael4:33 pm 08 Jan 19

Criminologist or not, this is all pure speculation.

Was this researcher paid for their work ? it seems a bit generic and the result of 5 minutes googling. Or am I mistaken and perhaps it was simplified for this article ?

I’m also curious about the conjunction ‘Police are baffled by this increase and are unable to say if any investigations are underway’. What is the public expectation here ? Are they obliged to investigate and are turning away from this obligation or are they happy to turn it over to vigilantes who are willing to protect their property ?

Capital Retro1:30 pm 08 Jan 19

“The burnt out car near the entrance to the BBQ area on the western side of Lake G has been there forever.”

I thought that was a government’s public art piece, channelling Belconnen’s culture.

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