10 May 2023

Properties counting the cost after arson attacks

| Matt Nicholls
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MORE than 100,000 acres of pastoral land in Cape York has been lit up by a fire bug on the Peninsula Developmental Road.

Land owners and managers have been working around the clock to extinguish the flames and prevent further spread of the fires, which were almost certainly deliberately lit on Friday morning.

Wolverton Station and Piccaninny Plains were the properties most impacted by the arson attack, with both Emma Jackson from Wolverton and Sally Gray from Piccaninny pleading with locals to report any suspicious behaviour or vehicles near the PDR on Friday.

“This is not something new for us but we are well and truly sick of it,” said Ms Gray, who looks after Piccaninny with her partner Graham Woods.

“Someone has travelled up the PDR and lit fires as they have gone through.

“We are now at the point where we are working with the police and QFES to try and get to the bottom of who is responsible.

“Previously a lot of deliberately lit fires have gone unreported.”

Emma Jackson said locals were working together to try and identify the culprits.

“Since we put the word out on social media we have had a lot of responses from people who were on the road and what they saw,” she said.

“We know it was deliberate and it looks like they have made stops in a 20km part of the road and dropped matches to burn out the western side of the property (off the road).

“It’s really important for locals who are travelling in the Cape to report suspicious behaviour.”

Ms Gray said there was a huge cost to fighting fires and not just economically.

“You end up having sleepless nights because you are out there trying to protect property by backburning,” she said.

“The cost is astronomical. Not only do the domestic herd of cattle now need to be fed, but we’ve lost carbon credits and been pulled away from our regular work looking after the environment.

“There’s also a massive psychological cost when it comes to fighting fires.

“It takes it out of you.”

Ms Gray said it was important that people reported arsonists and that police made arrests.

“There seems to be a perception that the Cape burns every year but that’s only because people light illegal fires,” she said.

“Landowners up here have usually finished their cold burns by the end of July.

“Some fires are caused by lightning strikes, but these were deliberately lit by a criminal.”

Senior Sergeant Warren Flegg said detectives from the Weipa station were investigating the fires and asked anyone with information to call the station or contact Crime Stoppers.

“It’s a serious offence and it has a huge impact on the land owners,” he said.

Meanwhile, the toilets at the “Y” on the PDR have been closed after fire damaged the Cook Shire-managed facility.

The toilets are on the intersection of the PDR and the Bamaga Road, north of Archer River.

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