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WA police target arsonists in fire season

AAP logoAAP 29/11/2016 Rebecca Gredley

Arsonists will again be the target of a Western Australian police unit this summer amid new figures showing 85 per cent of bushfires were deliberately lit.

Strike force vulcan was launched on Tuesday and is in its sixth year of focusing on known arsonists and preventing and investigating deliberately lit bushfires.

Police Minister Liza Harvey said 85 per cent of bushfires in the state were deliberately lit in the last year, including 539 out of 630 bushfires.

There were 21 arrests through the program last year, down on 53 arrests from the year prior.

Ms Harvey said the fluctuating success of the program depended on evidence left behind at the scene and information provided by the community.

"It's not an exact science unfortunately with arson and because of the nature of these events sometimes the evidence can be lost," she said.

Strike force vulcan consists of 11 officers and is a partnership between WA police, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, and the Department of Fire and Wildlife.

The minister said parents with children fascinated by fire should consider the juvenile and family fire awareness program, which teaches 6-16 year olds fire behaviour, fire safety and the legal implications of arson.

JAFFA program co-ordinator Ruth Noonan said most children lit fires out of curiosity, peer pressure and boredom, and didn't usually have malicious intent.

A research project at Edith Cowan University is exploring arson in WA, and lead researcher Catherine Timms says the results will assist DFES, WA police and clinicians to better target preventive behaviour education.

The research has found 10-14 year old males are the highest risk group for deliberately lighting fires.

"They get caught up in the behaviour because of peer pressure, they understand what they're doing is wrong but don't reason out the consequences," she said.

Ms Harvey said people should be vigilant as inadvertently starting fires could still result in criminal prosecution.

"It is not good enough in Western Australia, in summer, to throw a lit cigarette butt out the window," she said.

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