Fire investigator urges community vigilance

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Invercargill chief fire investigator Murray Milne-Maresca.
A Hiab truck fire in Roslyn Bush during the early hours of Tuesday is the 27th fire labelled as suspicious in Southland in the past three months.

INVERCARGILL’S chief fire investigator has flagged the number of suspicious fires in Southland in the past four months as “unusual” following the 28th last week.

Murray Milne-Maresca said there had been “too many” suspicious fires in the region recently, after two last week, and stressed the need for more “vigilance” from the community when noticing things out of the ordinary.

Since April 1, he had counted 11 structure fires which caused damage in Invercargill alone, 10 structure fires with no damage and seven vehicle fires across the Southland region of which had been treated as suspicious in the first instance.

“We’re worried about them, something’s going on and if someone’s out there lighting fires, well, we want them caught.

“It’s important people keep aware of what’s going on around them.”

There was a similar “rush of suspicious fires” in Southland in 1990, Mr Milne-Maresca said.

“It seems to have crept back in but we’re working with police too and we’re trying to eliminate [them].”

Last Wednesday, a fellow fire investigator was sent to inspect the latest suspicious fire where a car was set alight about 1am the same day.

The day before, Mr Milne-Maresca was sent to investigate a suspicious Hiab truck fire which occurred in a locked compound on Kennington Roslyn Bush Rd, about 12km northeast of Invercargill.

A fire truck and tanker were sent from Invercargill station about 2.15am and arrived to find the locked vehicle “well involved” with flames, he said.

Police were in attendance and the fire was extinguished in about 10 minutes.

“I’ve finished my investigation but the cause is undetermined.

“There was a huge amount of flame and damage done to the truck… I couldn’t come up with a cause because the damage was so severe.”

However, it was deemed “of a suspicious nature” and would be further investigated by police, he said.

“The truck had not been used for a while, it was locked… I could not find any volatile, organic compounds.”

While many of the fires were categorised as suspicious, several had been found to be accidental later into the investigations, he said.

“There’s about three or four at the moment where people have been apprehended and they’re going through the court system as we speak.”

Police investigations had revealed some of the fires in certain areas around town had been linked, he said.

However, he was unable to comment further on the circumstances of the cases.

As a general safety rule, it was a long-standing recommendation those who owned trucks did not store dangerous materials, such as CRC cans, in the cab of their vehicle but instead, in a locker.

Southlanders were encouraged to implement safety measures to prevent arson attacks by keeping property and vehicles locked, using security lights and keeping flammable liquids, firewood and timber away from areas intruders could access.

He also stressed the ability for people to use video or take photos to help with the investigation.

  • For non-urgent police matters, phone 105 or Crimestoppers, 0800 555 111.
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