Offenders who burn cars after ‘quick grabs’

At least one car a week is being deliberately burnt out in Ballarat, latest data shows. 

File image of a car fire.

File image of a car fire.

Crime Statistics agency records reveal the number of cars damaged by fire is continuing to climb this year. At least 40 cars were burnt in the nine months from October to June, two fewer than those burnt in the 12 months to September, 2015.

At this rate, the number of cars being burnt out will substantially exceed the 2014-15 figures. At least 50 per cent of the city’s arson, which has risen nearly 60 per cent in the last year, is committed by car thieves who are seeking to conceal evidence, police say.

Acting Superintendent Zorka Dunstan said most offenders were looking for “quick grabs”.

“We find most of our stolen cars are coming from homes  – we find people are leaving their keys right next to their cars, so if they (the offender) can get into a garage they take whatever they can.

“We had one example the other night where someone shut their garage door but a bike was trapped underneath it, meaning it was slightly ajar.

“Any opportunity, offenders will take.”

The psychology of the rising number of youths who steal, joy-ride and then set cars on fire is very different to other arsonists, experts suggest. 

This delinquent behaviour is committed by young men in groups, Senior Lecturer in Clinical and Forensic Psychology Dr Troy McEwan says. March recorded the highest incidences of car fires, with 10 fires recorded that month. Five vehicles were burnt out in April and another six in May.

Dr McEwan says those who set cars on fire tend to work in groups, commit the crime for concealment reasons and have a long list of other offences. 

​“If you want to try and stop the setting of fires among delinquent groups, there are ways to prevent it. Often these people are known to the fire services or police. 

“People can target harden their homes to prevent their cars being being stolen,” Dr McEwan said.

“(With the other group) it is harder to identify. 

“With other arsonists, the detection rates are very low. Recent research shows only five per cent of those convicted with fire offences receive a secondary conviction.”

It’s harder to identify them in advance, Dr McEwan said, making prevention harder. 

Ballarat Fire Brigade Captain Mark Cartledge said the brigade had attended four suspicious car fires in just over a week, with more recorded in the district during this period.

He said numbers were “definitely up” on previous years, a cause of concern for firefighters as bushland continues to dry out. 

“These car fires have the potential to start major fires once it (the bushland) dries out further,” Mr Cartledge said.

“Particularly if there is a fire in the early morning that people do not notice, it has the potential to develop quickly.”

CFA operations manager Brett Boatman recently told The Courier  fire authorities were particularly wary of arson during the bushfire danger period.

He said any type of arson had to potential to cause devastation, particularly during the hot summer months when car fires can easily spread. 

“Bushfire arson can result in a huge cost to the community through loss of life, destruction of property and destruction of the environment,” Mr Boatman said. 

Acting Superintendent Dunstan reiterated prevention was vital to reducing the likelihood of theft, and subsequent car fires, particularly in the lead up to the holiday season. 

“They’re after quick grabs, nothing is easier (for an offender) than an open door,” Acting Superintendent Dunstan said.  Report suspicious behaviour to 1800 333 000.