By Rebecca Peppiatt
NEWS this week that a volunteer firefighter was responsible for lighting a string of bushfires in the Hills over Christmas and new year has devastated the tight knit community of Wooroloo and forced other local vollies to defend themselves and their integrity.
Echo News broke the story in last week’s edition (Hills communities on high alert as fire bug rampages) that police were looking into the possibility that a number of bushfires in the town and surrounds were suspicious and linked.
On Sunday WA Police revealed they had charged a 19-year-old in relation to nine bushfires lit between December 23 and January 15 in Wooroloo, Beechina, Gidgegannup and Wundowie.
Jude Craig Wright was a volunteer fire fighter at Wooroloo station.
One of the fires that was lit on Boxing Day along Government Road in Wooroloo destroyed a house, a number of sheds, vehicles and farming machinery.
Now the volunteer firefighting community has been compelled to defend themselves as they claim they have copped abuse from people tarring them with the same brush.
Bushfire Volunteers state president Dave Gosssage said the association has offered support to members of the Wooroloo Volunteers during this difficult situation.
“Bushfire Volunteers condemns the actions of any person lighting fires,” he said.
“It breaks a lot of people’s hearts when we hear stories of people lighting fires.
“99.99% of community volunteers do the right thing but it’s that point one per cent that destroys the reputation of everyone else no matter what organisation they are associated with.
“Tarnishing all volunteers with the same brush can have incredibly damaging effects on morale within communities, volunteer organisations and ultimately community safety if volunteers stop volunteering.”
It is alleged Mr Wright lit all nine fires and attended all but one of them in his capacity as a volunteer firefighter.
“His fire brigade [was] unable to attend the ninth fire due to already being engaged in responding to another of the fires he is alleged to have lit,” WA Police said.
The Wooroloo man was arrested by Strike Force Vulcan investigators on Saturday, January 15 and charged with nine counts of wilfully light or cause to be lit a fire likely to injure.
The maximum penalty for this offence is 20 years imprisonment.
Mundaring Shire President James Martin said he was “disappointed” with the developments.
“We share the disappointment and concern that many in the community would feel about what has transpired,” he said.
“As the matter is before the courts, we are unable to comment.
“We have confidence in the Wooroloo Volunteer Bushfire Brigade and its leadership and thank them for the support they have provided over many years.”