17 October 2023

Suspected arson sparks blazes on Cape York conservation property

| Sarah Martin
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An unplanned fire blazes on Cape York’s Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Reserve. Photo: Sally Gray/Australian Wildlife Conservancy

Managers are scrambling to control multiple bushfires suspected to be deliberately lit at remote Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Reserve on Cape York.

The nature reserve, managed by Australian Wildlife Conservancy, has been ravaged by fires, with three blazes in one day sparking up on the property last week.

“For whatever reason, combined with some really challenging weather, this year we have seen what appears to be an increase in arson,” AWC’s chief operations officer Tim White said.

“These fires are working their way across a significant part of the landscape, impacting residents and landholders.

“It’s not just impacting AWC and the environment, it’s a significant cost, strain and stress to all landholders.”

Mr White said arson was a senseless crime, and confirmed recent fires on both Piccaninny and Brooklyn Wildlife Reserve near Mt Carbine had been reported to police.

“It is threatening people’s safety and livelihoods,” he said.

“Our managers are there with their family, the graziers are there with their families, it’s a very very dangerous and damaging thing to be doing.”

Smoke from a late season fire roils off Piccaninny Plains as staff scramble to keep it under control. Photo: Sally Gray/Australian Wildlife Conservancy

Mr White said AWC staff and management at Piccaninny had been working hard to prepare for bushfire season with a regime of early burns, which had mitigated the effects of recent unplanned blazes.

“We rely heavily on our managers and staff at the properties to assist with early season burns, but unfortunately the way the season is running with consistent arson, they are also busy managing lots of unplanned fire,” he said.

“We conduct small patchy mosaic burns and have them linked, which means small animals don’t have as far to travel to find an area in the landscape that isn’t burnt, and when we do get late season fires they can’t continue burning right across the landscape.

“Authorities have been warning about the likely conditions for fire late this year, and we’ve taken some other measures in addition to our annual burns, but it is likely to be challenging for some months yet.”

Queensland Police Cape Patrol Group inspector Dave Rutherford said anyone aware of fires being deliberately lit on any Cape property without the owner’s permission were encouraged to contact police.

“The potential for both life and property loss from deliberately lit fires is a matter of great concern for police in the Cape,” Insp Rutherford said.

Suspected arson can be reported at your local police station, by calling PoliceLink on 131 444 or CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000.

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